back to article Boffins baffled by the glowing 'plumes' of MARS

A group of amateur astronomers has discovered a tricky conundrum for the professionals, documenting atmospheric plumes - or something that looks uncannily like them - above Mars... where they should not occur. The observations, made in March 2012 and written up for Nature here (PDF), found plumes in the Red Planet's atmosphere …

  1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Slightly baffled by aurora comments

    Doesn't that require a magnetic field (which Mars doesn't have much of, if any) and a big burp from the sun, which would have been observed?

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Slightly baffled by aurora comments


      The plumes could be some sort of very unusual aurora, 1,000 times brighter than anything seen on Earth, triggered by a very strong magnetic pocket in the planet’s crust that drove solar wind particles out into the atmosphere.


      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. fajensen Silver badge

      Re: Slightly baffled by aurora comments

      It is just the cybernetic berserker-core MK IV venting surplus cryogenic fluids from the cooling system for the planet busting laser - The war-god "MARS" will be resuming normal service in few decades.

      1. Hero Protagonist

        Re: Slightly baffled by aurora comments

        Nah, just Marvin the Martian. There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering kaboom.

    3. Mike Richards

      Re: Slightly baffled by aurora comments

      Mars has almost no global magnetic field, but there are a number of localised magnetic anomalies on the planet, presumably locked in place when the core solidified. ESA spotted aurorae in 2005 over the southern hemisphere and they seem to be associated with known anomalies.

  2. fearnothing

    That was my thought too... regardless though I'm looking forward to this turning into an example of why the best science starts with someone saying "That's odd..."

  3. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    First things first

    Has there been a green flash?

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Re: First things first

      That was the insidious Ordos landing craft.

      They're doing spice mining.

      Mars (aka Dune).

    2. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

      Re: First things first

      Hmm I think we need a MIB style memory erasure pen for this one.

  4. Neoc

    Sing it with me...

    "The chances of anything coming from Mars..."

    1. AndrueC Silver badge

      Re: Sing it with me...

      If you start impersonating David Essex I'm leaving.

    2. Benchops

      Re: Sing it with me...

      No Neoc, there must be more to life.

  5. oldtaku


    We were guessing the Reg headline for this, and I offered 'MARS passing GAS? Baffled Boffins give various theories the SNIFF test.'

    Shall I send you my CV then?

  6. JohnnyGStrings

    Where's amanfrommars, we need you! :)

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Where's amanfrommars

      Who do you think is making that cloud? :)

    2. GregC

      No. We really don't.

    3. ARGO

      He's gone home!

    4. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Where's amanfrommars, we need you!

      Be careful what you wish for...

    5. Little Mouse

      The original and best?

      I've not seen any posts from AManFromMars in many years.

      My brain is still aching from the experience.

      1. stuartnz

        Re: The original and best?

        Often imitated, never matched. If he has gone home, it may not be long before Curiosity commits suicide, like the cop's spaceship on Magrathea.

  7. Winkypop Silver badge

    Circle work?

    Maybe Curiosity gets bored between mission tasks.

  8. Crisp Silver badge

    Hey! It's that barbecue's over sound again.

    I reckon it's buggalo.

  9. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    The next question is

    Did they count the moons recently?

    1. JetSetJim Silver badge

      Re: The next question is

      Is there a reason that this is not an impact artefact? IANAA, so the question is in complete ignorance. The Nature article (the free bit, anyway) reads:

      "For particles reflecting solar radiation, clouds of CO2-ice or H2O-ice particles with an effective radius of 0.1 micrometres are favoured over dust. Alternatively, the plume could arise from auroral emission, of a brightness more than 1,000 times that of the Earth’s aurora, over a region with a strong magnetic anomaly where aurorae have previously been detected. Importantly, both explanations defy our current understanding of Mars’ upper atmosphere."

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    “something not foreseen by any atmospheric model”

    Well 97% of scientists accept that conveniently covers all the bases. Including the 'Paws'. Whilst being adamant that the science is of course fully settled.

  11. We're all in it together

    On the run up to May

    A top secret mission sent a rocket full of politicians to Mars where they built an auditorium and they duly argued who's the best. Gas cloud explained. Politicians full of hot air and not much else (apart from pockets full of dosh)

  12. Little Mouse

    Obvious really

    They've nuked the site where they faked the first lot of moon landings. Curiosity was getting too close...

  13. lee harvey osmond


    "no no no, hold it in, their satellite's coming round again, they're looking for methane! They'll see us!"

    "OK. I'm not sure about this... can I let it slip now?"

    "no, no, here comes another satellite. You'll have to wait another --"


    "Sorry about that, couldn't help it. Blimey, someone open a window!"

    [heavy choking coughing; sound of window opening]

    [wheezy] "Dear God. What if it forms a plume? I bet they'll spot that from orbit"

  14. Dr Dan Holdsworth Silver badge

    Let's see now...

    So, our initial Mars landers were all solar powered, and nothing happened. Now we've sent a plutonium thermal power source over to that planet, and things are happening now.

    Cherenkov glow detectors setting off an ancient weapons system?

    Let's just hope the system was inactive and didn't see where the lander originated from, eh?

  15. DropBear Silver badge

    Okay, that's it....

    Which joker sent the Face On Mars a pack of cigars, huh?!?

    1. the spectacularly refined chap

      Re: Okay, that's it....

      Which joker sent the Face On Mars a pack of cigars, huh?!?

      No. It's actually a million office workers following management advice given when they asked "OK, so where can we smoke now?"

  16. bigphil9009

    Another picture gripe

    If you are going to insist on bunging a bloody great picture at the top of each article, at least put the bit of the picture that the article is talking about there! I spent a lot of time wondering where this plume was, and wasn't until I saw the much smaller picture at the bottom of the article that I realised that the bit I was looking at in the main picture was probably the polar (dry) ice cap.

  17. Lallabalalla

    It's the underground race of Martians

    Previously undetected, they have been hiding from us ever since they launched the "B" Ark all those years ago.

  18. Unicornpiss Silver badge

    Total Recall...

    Someone triggered the ancient atmospheric generator, meant to terraform the planet... which promptly threw a general protection fault and shut down.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Total Recall...

      Whatever OS that was running on, it blew away Windows.

  19. SolidSquid

    Since when did "amateur scientist" and "alien planet doing something impossible according to current science" result in "sensible hypotheses, if unlikely in the case of the aurora, proposed and professional scientists concur and begin investigation" rather than "THE ALIENS ARE COMING FOR US!!"

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Only Dr Hans Zarkov, formerly of NASA, has so far suggested any explanation...

  20. mark jacobs
    IT Angle

    I don't get it... ?

    This happened nearly 4 years ago. Why are we only just hearing about it now?

    1. Joe 48

      Re: I don't get it... ?

      "Nearly 4 years ago"

      I think you'll find that's typically referred to as, 3 years ago.

    2. Killing Time
      Black Helicopters

      Re: I don't get it... ?

      So just how long is a typical Mars to Earth transit period?

      They have probably only just poked their noses out of the bunker where they have been 'analysing' this phenomenon.

      Didn't want to alarm anyone and all that....

    3. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: I don't get it... ?

      This happened nearly 4 years ago. Why are we only just hearing about it now?

      Possibly that's the time it takes to write up the observation and get it published in Nature.

  21. Dr. G. Freeman

    What if it's something falling out of the sky, like one of the orbital probes, going flumph in to something big, soft and dusty- like a big ex-ocean bed filled with sandy stuff ?

  22. RISC OS

    A martian base

    either yankee, jap or russian, or Ets

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Bleu

      Re: A martian base

      It couldn't be ours.

      I drove for almost two hours in the countryside after midnight to watch the launch of Nozomi, magnificent sight, never saw a really big rocket take off before.

      Also scary, the sudden illumination and great noise. At such a dark time, easy to think 'this is what a small a-bomb looks and sounds like', many others felt the same for a moment.

      The base (seldom used now) is in such green and beautiful countryside, the rocket soon turned into the most magnificent upside-down candle, illuminating the beautiful green coast, hills, and valleys.

      I am not an expert, but I doubt there is a more beautiful launch site around.

      I cried when all efforts failed (it was years late but still on track for Mars, after many adjustments), but was sent into the void because the international body said there was a chance of impact.

      However, while not being A Man from Mars on the Reg., I, too, am truly a Martian.

  23. FntX

    Next news

    ... ancient underground facility of unknown race found on Mars. Scientists are sure the apparatus, dubbed as "some sort of core", found at the site is likely to enable FTL travel but further study is required, especially since this device seems to be mostly defunct. What boffins already got really excited is the discovery of a new material, as of now, dubbed "element zero" which seems to be a key element of the malfunctioning "core" ... don't know where you are when the SciFi kicks in ;)

    1. Lord Raa

      Re: Next news

      As long as it doesn't result in a series of difficult decisions culminating in a choice of Instagram filters over an explosion, I'm fine with this development.

      1. Kunari

        Re: Next news

        I was quite fond of the red filter myself. ;)

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Isn't it obvious?

    It's the RED planet, the loony left have just outlawed smokers to one particular district of the planet and forced them all up onto the surface.

    1. Tim Jenkins

      "...outlawed smokers..."

      Nah; they've obviously just moved on to vaping....

  25. I don't have a handle

    Speaking of Mars...

    Don't forget the Venus/Mars conjunction this month. And, on 20 Feb (west), we get the bonus of a thin waxing crescent Moon just 6 degrees to their right.

    Seems that the ISS is also appearing over the UK on the 20th too. Nice and bright from my location. A quick glance shows this to be in a similar area of the sky.

    Anyone think it'd be possible to nab a wide angle or fisheye shot of all 4*? Would make for an interesting photo :)

    *This seemed a reasonable article to ask such a question.

    1. ashdav

      Re: Speaking of Mars...

      Lots happening on the 20th Mar.

      Decent solar eclipse visible from UK

      Enter your town to see what it will look like.

      1. David Nash Silver badge

        Re: Speaking of Mars...

        "thin waxing crescent Moon"

        if it's the same day as new moon (ie. solar eclipse) then I highly doubt the crescent would be visible to the eye.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Speaking of Mars...

      Oddly enough, I'm currently testing a new weather prediction algorithm. It's currently saying there's 150% chance of heavy cloud and rain on 20th February.

  26. Sarah Balfour
    Thumb Up

    He's right…

    Followed by a totally loony eclipse a fortnight later (SkySafari just informed me when I went to check). If only I had a 'scope, and lived somewhere with less light pollution (it's rarely less than 60% here. Some nights I can make out the Orion Nebula - just! - but it's a rare thing).

  27. Refugee from Windows


    Something of ours has accidentally destroyed the Mysteron City. Now where have I heard that before?

  28. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    Didn't the (book version) of War of the Worlds have these?

    As I recall, the Martians pit gave off the strange phosphorescent vapors while they were putting together their tripods.

    Maybe the Martians are a little peeved that we put a nuclear-powered go-kart on their planet, and they are building an RV or something. Ulla!!!

  29. Identity

    From Wells' "War of the Worlds"

    "Men like Schiaparelli watched the red planet--it is odd, by-the-bye, that for countless centuries Mars has been the star of war--but failed to interpret the fluctuating appearances of the markings they mapped so well. All that time the Martians must have been getting ready.

    During the opposition of 1894 a great light was seen on the illuminated part of the disk, first at the Lick Observatory, then by Perrotin of Nice, and then by other observers. English readers heard of it first in the issue of Nature dated August 2. I am inclined to think that this blaze may have been the casting of the huge gun, in the vast pit sunk into their planet, from which their shots were fired at us. Peculiar markings, as yet unexplained, were seen near the site of that outbreak during the next two oppositions.

    The storm burst upon us six years ago now. As Mars approached opposition, Lavelle of Java set the wires of the astronomical exchange palpitating with the amazing intelligence of a huge outbreak of incandescent gas upon the planet. It had occurred towards midnight of the twelfth; and the spectroscope, to which he had at once resorted, indicated a mass of flaming gas, chiefly hydrogen, moving with an enormous velocity towards this earth. This jet of fire had become invisible about a quarter past twelve. He compared it to a colossal puff of flame suddenly and violently squirted out of the planet, "as flaming gases rushed out of a gun." "

  30. Mike Moyle Silver badge

    Two pages of comments...?

    A mysterious plume of gas from Mars? Not from Uranus?

    Well, SOMEONE had to say it, didn't they...!

  31. This post has been deleted by its author

  32. SZap

    Mars and Earth were in conjunction both in spring 1997 and also March 2012 when the plumes occurred. Ideal time for the shortest trip to earth.

    1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

      They walk among us! Martian takeover of Congress would explain a lot...

  33. Captain DaFt

    Solar wind powered hoover at work?

    Theory is that Mar's magnetic spots could react with the solar wind resulting in Mars's atmosphere being hoovered off.

    Maybe we just witnessed such an event?

    1. roger stillick

      Re: Solar wind powered hoover at work? . try Aeronomy, TLE...

      Here on earth, within the same timeframe, the 1946 sciene of Aeronomy and the newfound phenom. of TLE transient luminous event / Upper-atmospheric lightning merged when observations not normally made found these (previously only pressure / chemical composition readings taken - no visuals) things everywhere in Earth's upper atmosphere.

      Looking at declassified thermonuclear test pix found the very same upper atmosphere phenom... specifically ELVES due to the EMP generated by the explosion... possible C-sprites directly above the fireball as the ELVES is forming (C-sprite lifetime < 1 milli-second)... anyway all of this is on Earth with the nice magnetic field.

      Cosmic Rays cause atmospheric phenom. below the ISS height here on earth... the CR's are formed by both by Lightning strikes and Galactic particle bursts of all kind... this phenom. is by definition, can also produce ELVES and C-sprites...on Earth.

      IMHO= C. DaFt has mentioned possible loss of Martian atmosphere due to Solar wind blowing it off via the venturi effect... No magnetic field and very little atmosphere on Mars does not mean CR's cannot form C-sprites and ELVES, perhaps it even makes the clouds more common...19th century astronomers Lowell and Pickering saw Canals on Mars using telescopes similar to the one in this article... the canals could simply be these clouds... RS.

      1. roger stillick

        Re: Solar wind powered hoover at work? . try Aeronomy, TLE... Pt.2

        Ref= WIKI, Noctilucent clouds...Aug 28 2006, "Mars Express mission found CO2 crystals 62 miles above the surface of the planet"... "like Noctilucent clouds on Earth, they can only be observed when the Sun is below the horizen".

        Sept 19 2009, DARPA launched a Wallops Island "Charged Aerosol Release Experiment using the exhaust from a sub-orbitol sounding probe... a noctilucent cloud formed and was seen over several eastern US states for 2 weeks.

        Foward to today... just about any water or non-water compound if smaller than 30 nanometers can fe formed into a cloud with the addition of enough energy, and the Solar wind is enough, solar particle storms are more than enough.

        IMHO=We just have to stop being Carbon chauvanists and realize just about anything will combine if the valence bands allow it... RS

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Solar wind powered hoover at work? . try Aeronomy, TLE...

        I thought it was established that Lowell had an eye defect that caused him to see the arteries of his own eye, and mistook them for canals.

        Roger Bacon said that every man saw his own rainbow, and I think that in the early days of astronomy everybody saw their own Mars (and the other planets).

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    London better duck 'n cover!

    cuz last time this happened, well, at least you didn't get Tom Cruise...

    I for one welcome our three legged, smoke spewing, heat ray swingin' overlords!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: London better duck 'n cover!

      They're too late - they wouldn't survive an RPG round. Military technology constantly obsoletes the fantasy superweapons of the past.

  35. TheRealRoland
    Thumb Up

    Red Mars?

    Dunno what it is, but i'll be re-reading the Mars Trilogy again...

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019