A mysterious haze high above Mars has left scientists baffled as they seek explanation for the new phenomenon.
Amateur astronomers who spotted the mysterious haze above Mars twice in 2012 have reported their findings which have now been analyzed by scientists.
The scientists, from their analysis, have said the formation, stretching for more than 1,000 km, 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.
Damian Peach, one of the first stargazers to capture images of the phenomenon reportedly 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 realized it was a real feature – and it was quite a surprise.”
The plume was detected for 11 consecutive days from March 12-23.
The international team of scientists who confirmed the finding 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 100 km,” Dr Garcia Munoz reportedly said.
“And we are reporting a plume at 200 km, so it is significantly different. At 200 km, 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,” he added further.
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 is 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.
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