Mars Plume: Astronomers Seek Answers To Mysterious Plumes On Mars

A mysterious Mars plume full of dusty clouds and flares has been the subject of curiosity for astronomers. This week, a study published in the science journal, Nature, reveals what scientists have come across thus far in their research.

Bright flares that have faded were the highest in altitude of anything seen on Mars. They went up to 150 miles in altitude and spanned between 300 and 600 miles in width, according to researchers.

The large Mars plumes illustrated variability during the months of March and April 2011 for a period of 10 days. Ice crystals are discussed in the study, which means the atmosphere is even colder than first believed. Another scenario was explained by the scientists

“The plume could arise from auroral emission, of a brightness more than 1,000 times that of the Earth’s aurora, over a region with a strong magnetic anomaly where aurorae have previously been detected.”

Scientists in the Mars plume investigation say their explanations were defied of the planet’s “upper atmosphere.”

Co-author, Dr. Garcia Munoz, is surprised at the discovery of such high-altitude clouds, as BBC reported.

“We know there are clouds on Mars, but clouds, up to this point, have been observed up to an altitude of 100km.”

“And we are reporting a plume at 200km, so it is significantly different. At 200km, we shouldn’t see any clouds, the atmosphere is too thin – so the fact we see it for 20 days in total is quite surprising.”

According to The Tennessean, some scientists argue with the recent Mars plume reports.

Planetary scientist, Todd Clancy, of the Space Science Institute claims that “basic physics say this can’t occur.” He says that Mars’ upper atmosphere lacks the necessary ingredients in order to make clouds.

Another planetary scientist, Nicholas Heavens, doesn’t doubt there’s something “new and strange” in the journal report, but thinks it’s possible a “hole or two” could be in the analysis.

As it’s emphasized in The Tennessean report, Martian clouds are typically made of ice crystals and tend to be “wispy” — the same way thin cirrus clouds are seen on the Earth’s sky. The plumes on Mars were giant and wide. What’s more, nothing special surrounding sun activity is recorded. Sun activity is a critical ingredient for such aurora.

There’s an optimistic outlook that once the paper is released, more scientists will weigh in on their theories about the Mars plume sightings. If a definitive answer can’t be determined, then astronomers will have to wait until plumes return to learn more, writes the BBC.

[Photo Credit: NOAA via USA Today]