There are giant, mysterious plumes on Mars that no one can explain
Mars hides many mysterious, but most of them are imperceptible to the average watcher. It’s amazing that traces of methane were recently discovered on the Red Planet, but if it wasn’t for the team of adorably excited scientists explaining how that could signify life, most of us would have no idea what that means.
A mysterious plume rising 250 km straight into the atmosphere, however, is a little easier to appreciate.
According to the ESA, on two separate occasions observers noticed a giant plume rising from the surface of the planet. The first recorded plume was seen on March 2012, while the second was on April 2012, according to a recently published paper outlining the phenomenon.
And no one has a clue what it could be.
After recording the plumes, planetary scientists went back and looked through Hubble Space Telescope images from 1995 through 1999, as well as amateur images from 2001 through 2014. It did find other plumes, but none more than 100 km in altitude. The closest they found was a Hubble image from May 17, 1997, but it still doesn’t help to explain exactly what the plumes are.
“One idea we’ve discussed is that the features are caused by a reflective cloud of water-ice, carbon dioxide-ice or dust particles, but this would require exceptional deviations from standard atmospheric circulation models to explain cloud formations at such high altitudes,” Agustin Sanchez-Lavega of the Universidad del País Vasco in Spain, lead author of the paper published in the journal Nature said.
For now theories are all those that study Mars have.
“Another idea is that they are related to an auroral emission, and indeed auroras have been previously observed at these locations, linked to a known region on the surface where there is a large anomaly in the crustal magnetic field,” co-author of the study Antonio Garcia Munoz said.
The ESA hopes to learn more about these plumes when its ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter reaches Mars in the near future. The spacecraft is scheduled for launch in 2016.