Mysterious 900-Mile-Long ‘Smoke Plume’ On Mars Throws Internet Into A Frenzy

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Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

The European Space Agency (ESA) is keeping a close eye on the curious ‘cloud’.

There’s a mysterious 900-mile long plume cloud seen on a number of images taken from the orbit from Mars.

The massive 1500-kilometer-long plume cloud formed near the 20kilometer-high ArsiaMons volcano on Mars.

However, the plume, say scientists, wasn’t created by the volcano which has remained dormant for millennia.

Instead, experts propose that the plume cloud was created by ice cloud ‘driven by the influence of the volcano’s leeward slope on the air flow’ – a phenomenon that astronomers call an orographic or lee cloud – and not something extraordinary to form in the region as some have claimed.

Elongated cloud on Mars. Image Credit: ESA/GCP/UPV/EHU Bilbao, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Speaking about the strange plume, the European Space Agency wrote:

“The cloud’s appearance varies throughout the Martian day, growing in length during local morning downwind of the volcano, almost parallel to the equator, and reaching such an impressive size that could make it visible even to telescopes on Earth.”

The presence of the odd cloud can be seen in this image taken on October 10, 2018, by the Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) on Mars Express, reports the European Space Agency.

Ever since September 13, the European Space Agency has been observing the odd formation.

Dust Storms and how they affect the planet

Experts say that the recent images of Mars, taken after a major dust storm practically engulfed the entire planet in June and July, will help astronomers understand how dust storms impact cloud development throughout the Motian year. 

The dust storm that took place in June and July of 2018 spanned across more than 18 million square kilometers, an area greater than North America.

The monstrous dust storm that swept across Mars is responsible for the issues NASA’s Opportunity rover is currently experiencing. Ever since the dust storm, the rover has failed to phone ‘home,’ causing concern among mission specialists that Opportunity might have drained its batteries and dust covering its solar panels is preventing it from recharging.

Weather on Mars

As noted by the ESA, the red planet just experienced its northern hemisphere winter solstice on 16 October. 

In the following months leading up to the solstice, most cloud activity is expected to vanish over big Martian volcanoes like Arsia Mons. The dormant volcano’s summit is covered in clouds throughout the rest of the Martian years. But experts note that from time to time, seasonally recurrent water ice cloud, just like the one shown in the curious image, is known to form along the southwest flank of this volcano producing exactly what can be misinterpreted as plumes originating from a volcanic eruption.

The High-Resolution Stereo Camera on board ESA’s Mars Express snapped a view of a curious cloud formation that appears regularly in the vicinity of the Arsia Mons volcano. Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

As explained by the European Space Agency, the massive ‘plume’ could even be observed with telescopes from Earth.

“The cloud’s appearance varies throughout the Martian day, growing in length during local morning downwind of the volcano, almost parallel to the equator, and reaching such an impressive size that could make it visible even to telescopes on Earth,” wrote the European Space Agency on their website.

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