New research from NASA's Maven space probe uncovers a mysterious "magnetic tail" behind planet Mars. The research indicates that the tail is "twisted" as a result of an interaction with the solar wind.
Mars's Magnetic Tail
NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) spacecraft has managed to discover a mysterious and invisible magnetic tail, or magnetotail, that trails behind the red planet.
The new discovery shows that the magnetotail is unique in the solar system, because it is twisted as a result of a "magnetic reconnection," a physical process in which oppositely directed magnetic field lines break and reconnect in a plasma.
According to NASA's latest research, the magnetic reconnection process plays a major role in the creation of Mars's invisible magnetotail as it is at the heart of many spectacular events that take place in the solar system.
Gina DiBraccio of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland said that the Martian magnetotail is unlike the magnetic tails found in Venus and Earth. Rather, it is a "hybrid between the two."
"Our model predicted that magnetic reconnection will cause the Martian magnetotail to twist 45 degrees from what's expected based on the direction of the magnetic field carried by the solar wind," said DiBraccio. "When we compared those predictions to MAVEN data on the directions of the Martian and solar wind magnetic fields, they were in very good agreement."
NASA's Maven Mission
Maven was developed by NASA as a space probe to explore and study Mars's atmosphere while in orbit. One of its missions is to collect data to determine how the planet's atmosphere and water were lost. The space probe was launched successfully on Nov. 18, 2013, and arrived at Mars about a year later.
Mars's Magnetic Field
Mars has lost its global magnetic field billions of years ago, but traces of it remain in certain areas on the surface of the planet.
How Does Mars's Magnetotail Form?
According to the research, the planet's magnetotail comes into being when the magnetic fields from both the solar wind and the planet's surface unite in the process of magnetic reconnection.
The solar wind emanates continuously from the sun's surface and into space "at about one million miles (1.6 million kilometers) per hour" and thus continues to carry along with it the magnetic fields from the sun. If the magnetic field from the solar wind is oppositely directed toward the magnetic field from the Martian surface, the two meet and join together to form a magnetotail.