Scientists believe they may have finally, at long last, discovered the source of all the dust on Mars. With a massive dust storm still continuing to plague the Red Planet and hamper work by the Opportunity rover, the new study couldn’t have come at a better time.
As Science Alert reports, researchers have long puzzled over the mysterious source of dust on the Red Planet, with Johns Hopkins University planetary scientist Lujendra Ojha asking, “How does Mars make so much dust, because none of these processes are active on Mars?”
Indeed, the creation of dust on Earth is much different than it is on Mars. On Earth, dust can be blown upon the wind, carried through the air by volcanic activity, or moved along by streams and glaciers — all part of the process of erosion. On Mars, however, this is not the case.
While it might seem like meteorite impacts could create dust on the Red Planet, in reality such collisions could never create the kind of fine dust that has currently engulfed Mars.
Considering the fact that Mars manages to kick off 3 trillion kilograms of dust yearly, even when there aren’t such large storms looming, Ojha’s new research which identifies the most likely source of dust on Mars is a very welcome study.
Scientists Have Finally Figured Out The Mysterious Source of All Mars' Dust – And It's Mainly One Formation https://t.co/MogLiKASIT
— ScienceAlert (@ScienceAlert) July 26, 2018
The new study has suggested that it is the Medusae Fossae Formation on the Red Planet, which the ESA once alluded to as “an extensive unit of enigmatic origin,” that is the cause of the startlingly large amount of dust on Mars.
As planetary geophysicist Kevin Lewis noted, “Mars wouldn’t be nearly this dusty if it wasn’t for this one enormous deposit that is gradually eroding over time and polluting the planet.”
While scientists first found this geological formation back in the 1960s, the discovery that the Medusae Fossae Formation is volcanic was only made recently. In fact, it is now considered to be by far the largest deposit of volcanic materials in our whole solar system.
Scientists believe that at one point this formation on Mars would have been much larger than it is today. However, after billions of years the effects of erosion have taken their toll here and, while still quite large, the Medusae Fossae Formation on the Red Planet is not what it once was.
Researchers finally realized that the dust on Mars was coming from this formation after identifying the chemical composition of dust on the planet and then comparing it with readings they had obtained from the Medusae Fossae.
As Lujendra Ojha explained, Martian dust has a very specific chemical composition, and matched up splendidly in the end.
“Dust everywhere on the planet is enriched in sulfur and chlorine and it has this very distinct sulfur-to-chlorine ratio.”
The new study on the dust of Mars springing from the Medusae Fossae Formation has been published in Nature Communications.