Scientists discover primary source of Mars dust

A new study suggests the primary cause of the dust storm on Mars.

Tyler MacDonald | Oct 02, 2019

Scientists believe that they have found the source of the dust storm that put one of NASA's rovers into hibernation, pointing to the600-mile-long (1,000-kilometer) Medusae Fossae Formation located near the planet's equator.

The recent study suggests that the wind-eroded Medusae Fossa is the biggest source of dust on Mars, and has its origins in ancient volcanic activity.

"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 study co-author Kevin Lewis from Johns Hopkins University.

Although meteor craters are common on Mars, the fragments that stem from impacts are usually bigger than the particles that make up Martian dust.

"How does Mars make so much dust, because none of these processes are active on Mars?" asked lead author Lujendra Ojha, referring to common dust-creating processes. Although there are factors in the current storm that have played played similar roles in the past, the team believes that something else is the primary cause for the dust storms.

By examining the dust's chemical combination and studying data from the Mars Odyssey spacecraft, the team was able to pinpoint theMedusae Fossa as the location with chlorine and sulfur ratios that match those found in the Mars dust.

"Dust everywhere on the planet is enriched in sulfur and chlorine and it has this very distinct sulfur-to-chlorine ratio," Ojha said.

Although seasonal dust storms are commonplace on Mars, taking place each year, global dust storms typically occur every 10 years or so.

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

The findings were published in Nature Communications.

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