Mars magnetic tail: NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft discovers magnetotail for the first time in solar system

23 October 2017, 10:44 AM
Mars magnetic tail: NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft discovers magnetotail
Mars magnetic tail: NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft discovers magnetotail

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft has discovered a huge magnetic tail trailing behind Mars. According to reports, this is something unique that has been twisted by interaction with the solar wind was never seen before in our solar system. 

“We found that Mars’ magnetic tail, or magnetotail, is unique in the solar system,” said Gina DiBraccio of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “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.”

According to Researchers, the Mars magnetic tail is likely caused by a process known as magnetic reconnection. It is also suggested that when magnetic fields are carried by the solar wind join with the magnetic fields embedded in planet’s surface, they form a magentotail. Mars could provide a unique opportunity to observe the minute details of such unusual events and to expand our knowledge of the vast systems in the universe.

Although Mars magnetic tail is invisible, its direction and strength could be measured by magnetometer instrument on MAVEN.

“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.”

Also, Mars possesses no atmosphere. Most of its atmosphere is stripped away by solar winds and radiation and the lack of magnetic field has transformed it from a planet that could have supported life billions of years ago into a cold, barren world. Now just remnants of the magnetic fields are embedded in certain regions of the Mars’ surface. 

“The solar wind is a stream of electrically conducting gas continuously blowing from the Sun’s surface into space at about one million miles (1.6 million kilometers) per hour. It carries magnetic fields from the Sun with it. If the solar wind field happens to be oriented in the opposite direction to a field in the Martian surface, the two fields join together in magnetic reconnection.” NASA statement reads.

Since Mars contains patches of magnetic field, its magnetotail is somehow different from others. It could be a complex hybrid between the magnetotail of a planet with no magnetic field and a planet with a magnetic field covering the whole surface.

As part of the future plan, MAVEN spacecraft is continuously changing its orientation in respects of the sun. This will allow measurements to be made around all the regions of the Mars and help build a map of its magnetotail and its interaction with solar wind.

First Published: Monday, October 23, 2017 10:27 AM
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