Huge news for science buffs, there’s a big as-yet-unexplained ‘plume’ on the surface of Mars and it most definitely isn’t Elon Musk smoking a blunt.
The cloud is now over 900 miles long and believed to be caused by volcanic activity.
Realistically, only one explanation remains legit: someone is vaping on Mars. But there’s more to it than that.
Since 13 September, the European Space Agency’s Mars Express has been observing the ‘evolution of an elongated cloud formation hovering in the vicinity of the 20 km-high Arsia Mons volcano, close to the planet’s equator.’
Despite its location, this feature is not thought to be linked to volcanic activity but is ‘rather a water ice cloud driven by the influence of the volcano’s leeward slope on the air flow – something that scientists call an orographic or lee cloud – and a regular phenomenon in this region.’
ESA wrote of their research:
Mars just experienced its northern hemisphere winter solstice on 16 October. In the months leading up to the solstice, most cloud activity disappears over big volcanoes like Arsia Mons; its summit is covered with clouds throughout the rest of the martian year.
However, a seasonally recurrent water ice cloud, like the one shown in this image, is known to form along the southwest flank of this volcano – it was previously observed by Mars Express and other missions in 2009, 2012 and 2015.
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 ESA added:
The formation of water ice clouds is sensitive to the amount of dust present in the atmosphere. These images, obtained after the major dust storm that engulfed the entire planet in June and July, will provide important information on the effect of dust on the cloud development and on its variability throughout the year.
The elongated cloud hovering near Arsia Mons this year was also observed with the visible and near-infrared mapping spectrometer, OMEGA, and the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on Mars Express, providing scientists with a variety of different data to study this phenomenon.
Truly wild times we live in, especially if it does turn out to be Elon Musk.
Regardless, Mars, keep doing you.
You can catch space anytime you want outside your houses and up in the air, free of charge.
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