Mars’s atmosphere hosts metal layers that shouldn’t exist

Apr 13, 2017

By Leah Crane

Mars’s atmosphere harbours a layer of electrically charged metal atoms, and they’re not behaving as expected.

NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Emission) spacecraft found layers of atmospheric metal ions that defy models based loosely on Earth’s atmosphere.

“Mars is giving us observations both like and unlike Earth, and that’s very exciting,” says Joseph Grebowsky at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, head of the team that found these Martian metals.

The space between planets is full of metallic dust and rocks. As they are drawn into a planet’s atmosphere, they burn up, leaving behind metal particles like iron and magnesium. On Earth, the behaviour of those particles is mostly controlled by the planet’s strong magnetic field. They use magnetic fields as a sort of highway, and stream along the magnetic field lines to form thin layers throughout the atmosphere.

But Mars has no such field. The planet does have small regions with weak magnetic fields in its southern hemisphere, but without a global field like Earth’s, it should not be able to form the layers that MAVEN sees.

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2 comments on “Mars’s atmosphere hosts metal layers that shouldn’t exist

  • @OP link – These new MAVEN findings yield more questions than answers: how do the metal ions get so high up in the atmosphere? How do they form layers like Earth’s without a strong magnetic field? Why are they mixed in so well together?

    It is always possible that they are “high up”, because they are from metallic meteorites or space dust, which is falling down from above as Mars sweeps these particles from its orbit!



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  • @OP – But Mars has no such field. The planet does have small regions with weak magnetic fields in its southern hemisphere, but without a global field like Earth’s, it should not be able to form the layers that MAVEN sees.

    Another radical difference in Mars’ climate compared to Earth, is that massive quantities of frozen out atmosphere seasonably sublime and blow surface dust from one hemisphere to the other, whereas on Earth dust storms are caught up in cyclonic weather systems and the dust is washed out of the atmosphere by rain.



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