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Mystery Mars haze baffles scientists

 

 

Mystery Mars haze baffles scientists

By Rebecca Morelle
Science Correspondent, BBC News

The plume appeared twice in 2012, and stretched for 1,000km

A mysterious haze high above Mars has left scientists scratching their heads.

The vast plume was initially spotted by amateur astronomers in 2012, and appeared twice before vanishing.

Scientists have now analysed the images and say that say the formation, stretching for more than 1,000km, is larger than any seen before.

Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers believe the plume could be a large cloud or an exceptionally bright aurora.

However, they are unsure how these could have formed in the thin upper reaches of the Martian atmosphere.

“It raises more questions than answers,” said Antonio Garcia Munoz, a planetary scientist from the European Space Agency.

Around the world, a network of amateur astronomers keep their telescopes trained on the Red Planet.

They first spotted the strange plume in March 2012 above Mars’ southern hemisphere.

Damian Peach was one of the first stargazers to capture images of the phenomenon.

He told BBC News: “I noticed this projection sticking out of the side of the planet. To begin with, I thought there was a problem with the telescope or camera.

“But as I checked more of the images, I realised it was a real feature – and it was quite a surprise.”

Damian Peach was one of the first astronomers to image the plume

The vast, bright haze lasted for about 10 days. A month later, it reappeared for the same length of time. But it has not been seen since.

An international team of scientists has now confirmed the finding, but they are struggling to find an explanation.

One theory is that the plume is a cloud of carbon dioxide or water particles.

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

“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.”

Another explanation is that this is a Martian version of the northern or southern lights.

Dr Garcia Munoz explained: “We know in this region on Mars, there have been auroras reported before. But the intensities we are reporting are much much higher than any auroras seen before on Mars or on Earth.

“It would be 1,000 times stronger than the strongest aurora, and it is difficult to come to terms that Mars has such an intense aurora.”

If either of these theories are right, he said, it would mean our understanding of Mars’ upper atmosphere is wrong.

He hopes that by publishing the paper, other scientists might also come up with explanations.

If they cannot, astronomers will have to wait for the plumes to return.

Close-up observations from telescopes or the spacecraft that are currently in orbit around the Red Planet could help to solve this Martian mystery.

Earth’s biodiversity is helping scientist to design vehicles that will travel through space and land on Mars and other planets. It’s called ‘bio-inspiration’ as this video clip shows.


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Fire missiles at Mars to find deeply buried life

From NewScientist

07 May 2014 by Jacob Aron
Magazine issue 2968. Subscribe and save

Mars

IN THE hunt for life on Mars, it’s time to pull out the heavy artillery. A non-profit group has proposed a mission that involves showering Mars with bunker-busting missiles that would penetrate deep into the ground but deliver probes, not warheads.

On Mars, preserved traces of microbes could lurk in deep subsurface ice, where they would be shielded from harsh cosmic radiation. NASA’s Curiosity rover has a drill, but it only penetrates a few centimetres. “Curiosity doesn’t go very deep – it is literally scratching the surface,” says Chris Carberry, executive director of the non-profit group Explore Mars, based in Beverly, Massachusetts.

Future missions will go deeper but will have limited capabilities. NASA’s InSight lander mission, set for 2016, features a “mole” designed to dig down 5 metres, but it won’t be searching for life. The European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover, due to launch in 2018, will drill down 2 metres in search of traces of life, but it can only explore a single Martian region.

That’s why Explore Mars last week appealed for funds for a project called Exolance, which would scatter small, lightweight projectiles across the Red Planet. Each missile would carry scientific instruments and would keep in radio contact with Earth.

The full article can be read here at NewScientist.com

Here’s a clip from Animal X Natural Mystery Unit talking to a scientist about bio-inpiration for vehicles to be used on Mars.

Here’s another clip that also looks at bio inspiration only this time it’s about making a suit that will let you walk on the ceiling!


Do you believe in aliens? Here’s some people that do…

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