Where Martian dust comes from

Related Articles

Related Articles

The dust that coats much of the surface of Mars originates largely from a single thousand-kilometer-long geological formation near the Red Planet’s equator, scientists have found.

study published in the journal Nature Communications found a chemical match between dust in the Martian atmosphere and the surface feature, called the Medusae Fossae Formation.

“Mars wouldn’t be nearly this dusty if it wasn’t for this one enormous deposit that is gradually eroding over time and polluting the planet, essentially,” said co-author Kevin Lewis, an assistant professor of Earth and planetary science at the Johns Hopkins University.

 

In the film The Martian, a dust storm leads to a series of events that strands an astronaut played by actor Matt Damon. As in the movie, dust on Mars has caused problems for real missions, including the Spirit Mars exploration rover. The fine, powdery stuff can get into expensive instruments and obscure solar panels needed to power equipment.

On Earth, dust is separated from soft rock formations by forces of nature including wind, water, glaciers, volcanoes and meteor impacts. For more than 4 billion years, however, streams of water and moving glaciers have likely made but a small contribution to the global dust reservoir on Mars. While meteor craters are a common feature on the fourth planet from the sun, the fragments created by the impacts typically are bigger than the fine particles that comprise Martian dust.

“How does Mars make so much dust, because none of these processes are active on Mars?” said lead author Lujendra Ojha, a postdoctoral fellow in Lewis’ lab. Although these factors may have played a role in the past, something else is to blame for the large swathes of dust surrounding Mars now, he said.

Ojha and the science team looked at the dust’s chemical composition. Landers and rovers far apart on the planet have all reported surprisingly similar data about the dust. “Dust everywhere on the planet is enriched in sulfur and chlorine and it has this very distinct sulfur-to-chlorine ratio,” Ojha said.

They also studied data captured by the spacecraft Mars Odyssey, which has orbited the planet since 2001. Ojha and his colleagues were able to pinpoint the MFF region as having an abundance of sulfur and chlorine, as well as a match to the ratio of sulfur to chlorine in Mars dust.

Earlier findings suggest that the MFF had a volcanic origin. Once 50 percent of the continental United States in size, the wind has eroded it, leaving behind an area that’s now more like about 20 percent. Yet it is the largest known volcanic deposit in our solar system.

Wind-carved ridges known as yardangs are the remnants of erosion. By calculating how much of the MFF has been lost over the past 3 billion years, the scientists could approximate the current quantity of dust on Mars, enough to form a 2 to 12 meters thick global layer.

Dust particles can also affect Martian climate by absorbing solar radiation, resulting in lower temperatures at the ground level and higher ones in the atmosphere. This temperature contrast can create stronger winds, leading to more dust being lifted from the surface.

While seasonal dust storms happen every Martian year (twice as long as an Earth year), global dust storms can form about every 10 or so years.

“It just explains, potentially, one big piece of how Mars got to its current state,” Lewis said.

JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY

Header Image – A portion of the Medusae Fossae Formation on Mars showing the effect of billions of years of erosion. The image was acquired by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit : NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

The Varangian Guard – When Vikings Served the Eastern Roman Empire

The Varangian Guard was an elite unit that served as the personal bodyguards for the emperors of the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire).

Walking, Talking and Showing Off – a History of Roman Gardens

In ancient Rome, you could tell a lot about a person from the look of their garden. Ancient gardens were spaces used for many activities, such as dining, intellectual practice, and religious rituals.

Curious Kids: How did the First Person Evolve?

We know humans haven’t always been around. After all, we wouldn’t have survived alongside meat-eating dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex.

Ring-like Structure on Ganymede May Have Been Caused by a Violent Impact

Researchers from Kobe University and the National Institute of Technology, Oshima College have conducted a detailed reanalysis of image data from Voyager 1, 2 and Galileo spacecraft in order to investigate the orientation and distribution of the ancient tectonic troughs found on Jupiter’s moon Ganymede.

Tracing Evolution From Embryo to Baby Star

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) took a census of stellar eggs in the constellation Taurus and revealed their evolution state.

“Woodhenge” Discovered in the Iberian Peninsula

Archaeologists conducting research in the Perdigões complex in the Évora district of the Iberian Peninsula has uncovered a “Woodhenge” monument.

New Fossil Discovery Shows How Ancient ‘Hell Ants’ Hunted With Headgear

Researchers from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), Chinese Academy of Sciences and University of Rennes in France have unveiled a stunning 99-million-year-old fossil pristinely preserving an enigmatic insect predator from the Cretaceous Period -- a 'hell ant' (haidomyrmecine) -- as it embraced its unsuspecting final victim, an extinct relative of the cockroach known as Caputoraptor elegans.

New Algorithm Suggests That Early Humans and Related Species Interbred Early and Often

A new analysis of ancient genomes suggests that different branches of the human family tree interbred multiple times, and that some humans carry DNA from an archaic, unknown ancestor.

Popular stories

Port Royal – The Sodom of the New World

Port Royal, originally named Cagway was an English harbour town and base of operations for buccaneers and privateers (pirates) until the great earthquake of 1692.

Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter

Matthew Hopkins was an infamous witch-hunter during the 17th century, who published “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647, and whose witch-hunting methods were applied during the notorious Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts.

Did Corn Fuel Cahokia’s Rise?

A new study suggests that corn was the staple subsistence crop that allowed the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia to rise to prominence and flourish for nearly 300 years.

The Real Dracula?

“Dracula”, published in 1897 by the Irish Author Bram Stoker, introduced audiences to the infamous Count and his dark world of sired vampiric minions.