Research presented at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences has drawn our attention to Mars’ unique magnetic tail and the way magnetic fields, both on the planet and from solar winds, are affecting the tail’s movements. The Mars magnetotail might even provide insights into future colonization efforts on the red planet. 

What is the Mars Magnetotail?

The readings from NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) found a magnetic tail behind Mars as it orbits the Sun. The magnetic tail, referred to as a “magnetotail,” is unique in the Solar System, though not the only magnetotail. Earth and Venus both have magnetotails, but Mars’ is a hybrid version of each.

NASA believes this tail could contribute to how the Martian atmosphere escapes to space.  

Solar wind is comprised of electrically-charged particles of gas emitted by the Sun. It is believed that B]billions of years ago, solar winds removed a considerable amount of the Martian atmosphere. Today, the solar wind that interacts with the remaining regions of magnetism on Mars create the twisting of the magnetotail.

Magnetic Reconnection and the Magnetotail

Magnetic reconnection occurs when solar wind (which has its own magnetic fields) contacts a region of Mars, with magnetic fields oriented in the opposite direction.

The magnetic reconnection causes the Martian magnetotail to twist 45 degrees, dependent on the direction of the magnetic field in the solar wind. Thereby the magnetotail, spurred by reconnection of these magnetic fields, creates a path for particles to follow as they flow off the planet.

MAVEN's continually changing orbit has been able to map the magnetic fields of Mars entirely. As well as mapping the way the magnetotail twists and fluctuates when contacted by the solar winds.These readings will be examined with additional instruments, apart from the magnetometer that took them, to confirm that reconnected magnetic fields contributes to atmospheric loss on Mars.

This is a step toward better understanding the way the Martian atmosphere is being depleted, which is one of the major concerns associated with an attempt to possibly colonize Mars. For magnetic aficionados, it is yet another example of just how powerful magnetic fields can be.

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