Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Strange plumes over Mars

Astronomers and followers of space science are once more mystified by the planet Mars.

Enormous, vaporous plumes were spotted rising over the Red Planet back in 2012. They reached to a height of 155 miles (very near the edge of space) and grew to hundreds of miles in width. The plumes reflect sunlight, suggesting they could be made of water ice, carbon dioxide, or dust. Growing clouds of that matter is problematic, however, given the current model of the Martian atmosphere.

Reading further into the article from Space.com, it sees this phenomena is not exactly new. I guess these plumes have been seen off and on for the past 20 years or so. But rarely have they reached this height and width. So what are they?

Right now, nobody knows. Here are a few theories...

One is that of "Martian Auroras." These are similar to the auroras here on Earth where high-energy particles interact with the planet's magnetic field. When I first read that explanation, I was perplexed. I thought that Mars had no magnetic field, hence why its landscape is what it is? Turns out auroras have been observed in different areas on Mars, likely precipitated by large deposits of iron in the crust. So that's a thought.

Online commenters seem to favor the asteroid explanation. Big space rocks hit Mars and send up the plumes. While we can't track every asteroid hit on Mars, it just seems like that would be something we would notice.

Could it be volcanic or other geologic activity? Is the planet still active and the plumes a sign of it struggling for ballast? I was under the impression that Mars was not all that active geologically, but that thought of mine may be in need of revision. If the composition of the plumes should indeed be water or carbon dioxide, then that's yet more presence of organic compounds on Mars. Is it indicative that life is or was present on that planet? Too soon to say, but the evidence does seem to be piling up.

Could also be smoke rising from an apocalyptic battle. I'm not betting on that one, though.

Speaking of fiction, those who have heard recordings of the infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast of 1938 will tell you that the first signs of the impending invasion from Mars were plumes of smoke rising from the planet's surface as the Martians launched their machines Earthward.

We can expect the first cylinder to land at Grover's Mill any moment now.

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