Credit: ESA/GCP/UPV/EHU Bilbao

Researchers suggest that the cloud formation is not caused by volcanic activity.

European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission has been observing a white, elongated cloud in the Red Planet’s atmosphere since Sept. 13. The dramatic feature is located 20 km above the Arsia Mons volcano, close to the planet’s equator and measures around 1500 km long.

Despite the cloud hovering over the volcano, researchers suggest it is not linked to volcanic activity. It is likely a water ice cloud driven by the influence of the volcano’s leeward slope.

Mars Express’ Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) captured this cloud hundreds of times over the past few weeks. The cloud stretches westward of Arsia Mons – one of the three volcanoes that comprise Tharsis Montes. The @esamarswebcam on our #Mars Express mission has been observing an elongated cloud hovering near Arsia Mons volcano. Not linked to volcanic activity, this water-ice cloud is driven by the slope’s influence on the air flow. Read more: https://t.co/QQ0hnbTbTC pic.twitter.com/oRSCaxdHnT— ESA (@esa) October 28, 2018

Over the course of a Mars year, several clouds develop over Martian big volcanoes. Most of them begin to disappear as the planet enters its northern hemisphere winter solstice. However, a seasonally recurrent water ice cloud, like the one observed in the study, forms along the southwest flank of Arsia Mons volcano. Mars Express and many previous missions also reported a definite cloud-like feature developing over this volcano in 2009, 2012 and 2015.

It is difficult to understand the precise conditions that give rise to such clouds. However, researchers have found that this atmospheric feature that covers a large region over Arsia Mons volcano changes its structure during the entire day.

“The cloud’s appearance varies throughout the martian day, growing in length during local morning downwind of the volcano, almost parallel to the equator, and reaching such an impressive size that could make it visible even to telescopes on Earth.” ESA said in a statement.

The formation of water ice clouds is affected by the amount of dust present in the atmosphere. ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft obtained the images of cloud after the major Martian dust storm that engulfed the entire planet in June and July. The unprecedented catalog of images taken by Mars Express could provide important information on the effect of dust on the cloud development and on its variability throughout the year.

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Hira BashirThe latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (Google+). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.

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