A mystery cloud was spotted by amateur astronomers on Mars. At first, they thought such a curious formation might be the result of a pixel error or dust collected on his telescope, however, fellow astronomers also spotted the formation. This massive cloud was first spotted by Wayne Jaeshke, amateur astronomer, on the 20th of March 2012.
After Jaeshke first spotted the peculiar haze, other Mars-watchers began reporting the same formation, which seemed to not only be growing but also changing shape. This ethereal plume was followed by a second one several weeks after the first formation’s discovery, both clouds being located on Mars’s “terminator” (the line where night is separated from day).
Early Mystery Cloud Formation
The haze formed in a matter of days, (less than two weeks) and immediately began changing form for the following ten days, during which astronomers kept capturing pictures of the peculiar formation. Although several spacecrafts had been orbiting the Red Planet at that time, neither was located in an area where the plumes were visible.
Yet after so much time, astronomers still haven’t managed to figure out exactly what the plumes were. Their findings were published in Nature, although the formations haven’t been identified. One of the study co-authors, Antonio Garcia Munoz (European Space Agency scientist) said in a statement that their findings only add to the mystery of the haze.
Previous Martian Plumes
While other plumes have been photographed on the red planet, the haze in question reached altitudes of up to 155 miles, which is twice the altitude that regular plumes reach. This makes it particularly unlikely that such formations actually occur, lead author of the paper, Agustin Sancez-Lavega said. Previous photographs of Mars do reveal plumes reaching approximately 62 miles in altitude as occasional formations. There is one picture, however, which the Hubble Space Telescope took back in 1997. This photograph captured another particularly high haze, similar to the one astronomers photographed in March 2012.
“Explanations defy our current understanding of Mars’s upper atmosphere.”
Sancez-Lavega said, explaining that such a plume is particularly unexpected.
What is this Curious Haze on Mars?
There are several theories attempting to explain the curious formations which arose out of nowhere, scientists claim, and soon changed form (from double-blob bulges to finger-like shapes. On the one hand, the haze might have been a cloud, despite the curiously high altitude. The Red Planet’s atmosphere does contain clouds, Munoz mentioned, however, normally, they are never spotted at altitudes above 60 miles.
The team explains that a cloud would have to deviate strongly from the standard circulation models of Mars’ atmosphere scientists have come up with in order to form at such altitudes. A “reflective cloud”, as experts name it, comprised of water-ice particles, carbon-dioxide ice and dust, might be a possible explanation, although it is a highly unlikely one.
The second hypothesis that scientists came up with was a Martian Aurora as the ones we also experience on Earth. However, this theory is also flawed, as such an event would shine 1,000 times brighter than an aurora experienced on our Blue Planet. Astronomers admit to both theories’ limitations, because they defy what is currently understood about the upper atmosphere of the Red Planet.
“I don’t understand how material can get that high and stay there for so long.”
Bruce Jakosky, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere Observing Maven mission head, said in a statement.
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