NASA’s MAVEN Mission researchers have revealed they’ve made an incredible Mars discovery which they say is unlike any other.
They found the ‘Red Planet’ has an ‘invisible, magnetic tail’ which is twisted by interaction with the solar wind, according to new research using data from the MAVEN spacecraft which is in orbit around Mars.
NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) spacecraft is gathering data on how the Red Planet ‘lost much of its atmosphere and water, transforming from a world that could have supported life billions of years ago into a cold and inhospitable place today’.
A NASA statement says the process creating the twisted tail could also allow some of Mars’ already thin atmosphere to escape to space, according to the research team.
Gina DiBraccio of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said:
We found that Mars’ magnetic tail, or magnetotail, is unique in the solar system.
It’s not like the magnetotail found at Venus, a planet with no magnetic field of its own, nor is it like Earth’s, which is surrounded by its own internally generated magnetic field.
Instead, it is a hybrid between the two.
The team found a process called ‘magnetic reconnection’ must have a big role in creating the magnetotail because, if reconnection were occurring, it would put the twist in the tail, the statement reads.
NASA’s model predicted magnetic reconnection will cause the magnetotail to ‘twist 45 degrees from what’s expected based on the direction of the magnetic field carried by the solar wind’.
When we compared those predictions to MAVEN data on the directions of the Martian and solar wind magnetic fields, they were in very good agreement.
According to NASA, Mars lost its global magnetic field ‘billions of years ago’ and now just has remnant ‘fossil’ magnetic fields embedded in certain regions of its surface.
And according to the new work, Mars’ magnetotail is formed when magnetic fields carried by the solar wind join with the magnetic fields embedded in the Martian surface in a process called magnetic reconnection.
The NASA statement continues:
The solar wind is a stream of electrically conducting gas continuously blowing from the Sun’s surface into space at about one million miles (1.6 million kilometers) per hour.
It carries magnetic fields from the Sun with it. If the solar wind field happens to be oriented in the opposite direction to a field in the Martian surface, the two fields join together in magnetic reconnection.
— NASA (@NASA) October 20, 2017
On Thursday, NASA had something else incredibly cool to share with the world.
They tweeted a high-speed GIF of the Moon photobombing their Solar Dynamics Observatory, showing it crossing the spacecraft’s view of the Sun.
The lunar transit lasted about 45 minutes, between 3:41pm and 4:25 p.m. The Moon covered about 26 per cent of the Sun at the peak of its journey.
Interestingly, the Moon’s shadow obstructs SDO’s otherwise constant view of the Sun, and the shadow’s edge is sharp and distinct, since the Moon has no atmosphere which would distort sunlight, writes NASA.
Wonder what’s next?