Other planets like Venus and Earth also possess a kind of magnetic tail, but the one of Mars is much more twisted. Data from NASA‘s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) indicate that this kinky form of the Martian tail can cause the loss of a large part of the atmosphere surrounding the red planet. This invisible magnetic tail is twisted by interaction with the solar wind, according to new research that has been based on data compiled by NASA’s MAVEN mission.
MAVEN remains in orbit around Mars, collecting data on the process by which the red planet lost much of its atmosphere and water, and went from being a world capable of harboring life billions of years ago to the cold and inhospitable that it is today.
The process that forms the twisted tail could also cause a portion of Mars‘s weak atmosphere to escape into space, according to researchers who conducted the study. “We discovered that the magnetic tail of Mars or magnetocola is unique in the solar system,” according to Gina DiBraccio of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It does not look like the one on Venus, it is a planet without its own magnetic field, nor to the Earth’s magnetic wake, which is surrounded by its own internally generated magnetic field, it is rather a hybrid between the two. ”
DiBraccio presented his findings during the annual meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society in Utah.
According to scientists, the twisted tail of Mars is due to a process of magnetic reconnection. The red planet lost a large part of its magnetic field billions of years ago, but parts of its surface still retain fossil magnetic fields. The NASA team discovered that this magnetic reconnection process should play an important role in the creation of the Martian magnetota because it would cause the tail to twist and twist.
Di Braccio explains that the model they have handled “predicted that the magnetic reconnection will cause the Martian magnetocol to twist 45 degrees depending on the direction of the magnetic field carried by the solar wind. When we compare these predictions with the MAVEN data on the directions of the magnetic fields of Mars and the solar wind, we saw that they coincided.”
Mars lost its global magnetic field billions of years ago and now has only magnetic fields remaining, fossils embedded in certain regions of its surface. According to the new study, Mars magnetography is formed when the magnetic fields carried by the solar wind are joined with the magnetic fields embedded in the surface of the planet in a process of magnetic reconnection.
What is the solar wind?
The solar wind is an electrically conductive gas stream that blows continuously from the Sun’s surface into space at a velocity of about 1.6 million kilometers per hour. These winds carry with them magnetic fields of the Sun.
If the solar wind field is oriented in the opposite direction to a field on the Martian surface, the two fields are joined by magnetic reconnection. The magnetic reconnection process could also boost part of the Mars atmosphere into space. The upper atmosphere of Mars has electrically charged particles (ions). Ions respond to electrical and magnetic forces and flow along the lines of the magnetic field.
Since the Martian magneto is formed by joining the magnetic fields of the surface with the fields of the solar wind, the ions in the upper atmosphere of Mars are directed to the space if they flow down by the magnetocola. Just as a stretched elastic band adopts a new shape, the magnetic reconnection also releases energy, which could actively drive the ions of the Martian atmosphere through the magnet slot into space.
Since Mars has a mosaic of surface magnetic fields, scientists suspected that magnetography would be a complex hybrid between that of a planet with no magnetic field and that of a planet with a global magnetic field. MAVEN’s abundant data on the Martian magnetic field allowed the team to confirm this for the first time.
MAVEN’s orbit continually changes its orientation with respect to the Sun, making it possible to make measurements in all the regions surrounding Mars to draw up a map of the magneto-bridge and its interaction with the solar wind. Magnetic fields are invisible, but their direction and force can be measured by a magnetometer installed on board MAVEN, which experts used to make observations.
They now intend to analyze data from other MAVEN instruments to confirm that the reconnection contributes to the Martian atmospheric loss and to quantify its importance. They will also collect more data from the magnetometer in the coming years to study the various surface magnetic fields and how they affect the tail as a function of Mars rotation. This rotating movement coupled with a constantly changing solar wind magnetic field creates an extremely dynamic Martian magneto-magnet. And is that “Mars is as complicated as interesting,” according to DiBraccio.