A model calculates Mars solar radiation

Un modelo calcula la radiación solar de Marte

In the next few years, many space missions have set themselves the goal of reaching Mars. One of them, MetNet, plans to install observation stations on the Martian surface and measure solar radiation. An international team of scientists, with the participation of the Complutense University of Madrid, has designed a model to calculate this type of radiation, an essential parameter in future manned trips to the red planet.

One of the main obstacles to human exploration of Mars is solar radiation. On Earth, ozone absorbs ultraviolet radiation and serves as a protective shield for life to develop, but on Mars, the concentration of ozone is very low and cannot absorb all these rays.

An international team of scientists, with the participation of the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM), has designed a model capable of calculating the radiation fluxes that reach the Martian surface in different regions of the solar spectrum.

The research is part of the MetNet (Meteorogical Network) mission, which aims to install observation stations on the surface of Mars to analyze its parameters and also its atmosphere in the coming years.

As part of this mission, the MetSIS sensor will measure solar radiation on the surface of the planet in several bands down to 1100 nanometers. The scientists have designed a model to simulate the radiation reaching the surface of Mars in different spectral bands and have described two methods to study the variability of aerosols in the atmosphere of Mars based on the measurements and the model.

"The model has the potential to increase the scientific return of future missions and the results obtained can contribute to the preparation for human exploration of Mars," explains Álvaro Vicente-Retortillo, a researcher in the Department of Earth Physics, Astronomy and Astrophysics II at UCM and one of the authors of the study, published in the Journal of Space Weather and Space Climate.

More accurate results 

Having simulations is useful for the different phases of the mission. For example, before launch, it is important to know the radiation that will reach the instrument in each band according to different atmospheric scenarios.

"The joint use of the model and the MetSIS observations (once it reaches the planet) can significantly increase the scientific return of the mission," says Vicente-Retortillo. The physicist stresses that the results provided will have numerous applications in studies related to atmospheric dynamics, climate and habitability on Mars.

The research, which also involves the UCM Institute of Interdisciplinary Mathematics and the University of Michigan (USA), shows results for regions in the latitude band between 30º South and 30º North, where the landing sites initially selected for the MetNet mission are located.

For atmospheric scenarios, the researchers focused on different concentrations of dust particles, ranging from no dust particles at all to the maximum opacity measured by Opportunity in its first five years of measurements.

These dust particles have a great impact on the processes of scattering and absorption of solar radiation in the Martian atmosphere, which influences the yellowish and reddish color of the sky on Mars during the day and the bluish color at sunset, just the opposite of the Earth.