Mars: Is The Red Planet Already Beginning To Develop Rings Like Saturn’s?

Mars may one day become the fifth ringed planet in the solar system. Unlike Mars, the four other planets that have rings are all “gas giants,” located beyond the asteroid belt. Saturn’s rings may be the most famous, but Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune each have rings as well.

Mars, of course, is one of the four “rocky” or “terrestrial” planets, meaning it would be the only planet of its kind in our solar system to have rings. As the Inquisitr reported in November of 2015, research from the University of California at Berkeley showed that due to the fact that Phobos, one of Mars’ two moons, is gradually being pulled closer to the planet, the Martian moon may one day be torn asunder. As a result, a “ring of debris” may encircle Mars in “20 to 40 million years.”

Per Science Alert, Phobos’ orbit is shrinking by about “6.5 feet” every 100 years. Another possible fate for Phobos is that it may collide with Mars, according to Science Alert. While a full set of rings may be deep into Mars’ future, it may already be in the early stages of developing “proto rings,” according to New Scientist.

Per New Scientist, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter previously detected “a cloud of high-altitude dust” hovering over Mars. The “cloud of particles” was located “93 to 190 miles” over the Red Planet’s surface, according to Science Alert.

Originally, while the “MAVEN team” was unable to confirm the size of the “dust particles” or where they were coming from, the evidence implied they had originated “from interplanetary space,” according to New Scientist.

Now, however, Jayesh Pabari and his team of researchers from the Physical Research Laboratory in India, have taken a new look at “MAVEN data.” The team has concluded that “dust in the form of “proto-rings” may exist around Mars, per New Scientist. The team also believes that some of the material that make up the proto-rings might be coming from Phobos, as well as Deimos, Mars’ other moon. New Scientist also describes how Pabari and his team conducted their research.

“[Pabari] and his colleagues have compared the MAVEN dust measurements with models based on existing assumptions about how many meteoroids hit Mars and its moons.”

Ultimately, Pabari and his team make the case that “smaller particles” that are created by meteoroid strikes will normally be brushed aside “by the solar wind.” However, Mars’ gravity may be pulling in the larger particles and using them to make proto rings, which enter into an orbit near the Martian moons. The dust may be able to reach as far as “Mars’ upper atmosphere,” per New Scientist.

According to New Scientist, while the overwhelming majority of the “dust cloud’s” make-up is interplanetary, the team concludes that “0.6 percent” of the dust could have come from Phobos and Deimos. The full findings from Pabari and his team were published in the journal Icarus, as New Scientist describes.

As Science Alert also points out, gathering concrete, fact-based evidence surrounding the existence of the proto rings will likely be a ways down the road. According to New Scientist, members of the “MAVEN team” are not yet sold on the existence of proto-rings and have raised skepticism.

Per MAVEN principal investigator Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado Boulder, there were not signs of an “increase in dust” near Phobos when MAVEN moved close to the moon just last year. Moreover, when it comes to the “dust cloud,” since MAVEN was not built for the purpose of “look[ing] for dust,” it is difficult to confirm it source, per New Scientist.

Laila Andersson of the University of Colorado Boulder didn’t completely rule out the possibility that the proto rings could exist, but told New Scientist that a probe designed for the purpose of collecting dust would be essential to finding conclusive results.

“To really say anything definitive about the dust, you really need to have a dedicated dust detector.”

According to New Scientist, while many landers and orbiters have been sent to the Red Planet, a “dust collecting probe” has still yet to make a successful tour of Mars. Per New Scientist, Pabari has presented the idea of the “Mars Obit Dust Experiment (MODEX),” which is described as a potential “future dust investigation” that may be able to provide more answers.

Unlike Earth’s moon, Mars’ two moons are non-spherical in shape, and many have long theorized that they could actually be captured asteroids. Mars’ moons may have also been created as a result of a giant impact with a large object from space, according to Astronomy Now.

[Featured Image by Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock]

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