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Scientists mystified by massive plume over Mars

Scientists are struggling to explain a massive plume on Mars’ northwestern horizon, which was spotted by an amateur astronomer three years ago.

Wayne Jaeschke, who lives in southeastern Pennsylvania, was examining the surface of Mars with his telescope when he noticed a strange blob come from one area on Mars, calling the phenomenon a “martian stumper” in a blog post, according to a Washington Post report.

Jaeschke at first thought he was seeing a pixel error on his computer, or perhaps there was some dust on his sensor, but other amateur astronomers confirmed what he had spotted and experts were soon taking a closer look themselves.

A new study has been published in the journal Nature that only creates more questions, as no one has figured out what could have caused the plume. Scientists do know that it is more than 600 miles in diameter.

The study states that explanations “defy our current understanding of Mars’ upper atmosphere,” according to the report. The plume is too high for scientists to explain.

The plume appeared to materialize out of nowhere and became more prominent as the days passed. The features of the plume changed rapidly, going from “double blob protrusions” to “pillars,” according to the study’s authors.

The early hypothesis was that it was a cloud hanging 150 miles off the ground, but this was much higher than clouds had ever reached in the Martian atmosphere. Typically, clouds on Mars stay around 60 miles above the surface.

Another possible explanation is that it is light, but this is also not likely, scientists believe. Despite the fact that the plume is near an area of Mars that has a strong magnetic field, an aurora doesn’t seem likely because it isn’t that bright.

That leaves scientists almost back at square one, guessing at a range of possibilities without any significant backing to any of them.