An artist's impression of the Red Planet's tail. Image Credit: Anil Rao/Univ. of Colorado/MAVEN/NASA GSFC
NASA scientists have revealed the existence of an invisible magnetic tail trailing behind the Red Planet.
Discovered by the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) spacecraft, the unusual phenomenon is thought to have been caused by the effects of the solar winds and could help to shine more light on how the Martian atmosphere escaped in to space.
"We found that Mars' magnetic tail, or magnetotail, is unique in the Solar System," said NASA scientist Gina DiBraccio. "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."
When the solar winds, which carry their own magnetic fields, hit a region of Mars with a magnetic field oriented in the opposite direction it causes an effect known as magnetic reconnection.
"Our model predicted that magnetic reconnection will cause the Martian magnetotail to twist 45 degrees from what's expected based on the direction of the magnetic field carried by the solar wind," said DiBraccio.
"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."
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Mars, Magnetic Field