Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Mysterious plumes erupt from Mars

Mysterious plumes erupt from Mars

Amateur astronomers have spotted huge cloudlike plumes erupting from Mars – a phenomenon that scientists are at a loss to explain.

The bright flares, which have now died away, towered higher than anything else observed in the Martian atmosphere. Their tops reached some 150 miles in altitude, more than twice as high as the highest Martian clouds, and they sprawled across 300 to 600 miles, researchers report in this week’s Nature, a science journal.

The researchers initially were skeptical, but “we came to the conclusion that what we were seeing is actually real,” says study co-author Antonio García Muñoz, a planetary scientist at the European Space Agency. The plumes are “exceptional. … It’s difficult to come to terms with this.”

This scientific brainteaser first came to light in early 2012, when amateur astronomer Wayne Jaeschke was poring over footage of Mars he had captured at his private observatory. He came across a puzzling image showing the Red Planet with a blob billowing off the planet’s rounded edge.