On April 12th, 2017 we learned about

Iron and magnesium mysteriously stay afloat in the Martian sky

Particles from space often collide with out atmosphere, burning into basic elements like magnesium and iron. They then ride along the air, suspended and organized into layers or lanes by the planet’s magnetic field. This pattern has been playing out on Earth for some time, but NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Emission (MAVEN) spacecraft has recently found similar phenomena on Mars, which is weird considering how much thinner the Martian atmosphere is, and how nearly non-existent Martian magnetic fields are.

The Martian atmosphere is thin, likely due to the absence of a protective atmosphere. Charged particles from the Sun, called solar wind, have probably been stripping Mars of it’s atmosphere for ages. It’s still thick enough for incoming objects to burn with friction and compression forces, so seeing bits of iron or magnesium floating around isn’t completely surprising. The catch is that these metals aren’t settling the way they should. Instead, they’re behaving a lot like what is seen on Earth, separating into layers as if there were still a planet-wide magnetic field at work. What’s more, the iron, which is heavier than the magnesium, isn’t falling as expected. Instead, it’s somehow staying aloft at altitudes close to the magnesium.

Upsides of the unexplained

At this point, this strange situation has scientists scratching their heads. Even while we’re identifying atmospheres on Earth-sized planets 39 light-years away, our neighbor in the solar system has us stumped. There’s a lot of opportunity in these questions though, because this unexpected behavior may eventually help explain exactly what’s happened to the Martian atmosphere and any remnants of a magnetic field. With any luck, the source of these deviations will also lead us to some bigger answers along the way.

Source: Mars’s atmosphere hosts metal layers that shouldn’t exist by Leah Crane, New Scientist

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