Dust storms on Mars are bigger than we thought; they even spill into space.
According to a recent paper, Mars appears to be leaking dust, filling a huge volume of the inner solar system with gritty debris. You can see it with your naked eye.
The bright triangle in this image from the Haleakalā Observatory in Hawaii is marsdust:
“A friend described it as blazing,” says Rob Ratkowski, who took the picture on Feb. 10th. “It was bright and very obvious.”
It’s called Zodiacal Light, and astronomers have long wondered what causes it. The usually faint triangle is sunlight scattered by dust in the plane of our solar system. The dust, it turns out, comes from Mars.
What is Zodiacal Light?
One theory of Zodiacal Light held that asteroids were responsible. Yet, as Juno flew through the asteroid belt toward Jupiter, impact rates sharply dropped, sometimes to zero. Asteroids were not the answer.
Instead, they realized, the dust must be coming from Mars. Orbital elements of the dust grains essentially match that of the Red Planet.
What is Mars dust and how does it escape?
Mars is the dustiest place in the Solar System, with dust storms that envelop the entire planet for months. But how does this dust escape?
During storms, dust is sometimes launched to very high altitudes in the Martian atmosphere; researchers call it ‘rocket dust’.
However, leaving Mars requires overcoming escape velocity (~5 km/s), and even rocket dust has trouble doing that. Dust grains would have an easier time launching from Phobos and Deimos; however, those small moons don’t produce enough dust to explain the Zodiacal Light.
So, there’s still a mystery here. Mars has the dust, but researchers haven’t yet figured out how Mars delivers it. [Space Weather]
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