In March 2012 a vast plume was observed in the high upper atmosphere of Mars. A scientific paper on the phenomenon was just published in the leading scientific journal Nature. The Washington Post has an article on the plume entitled “The massive plume on the surface of Mars no one can explain.”
The plume had a diameter of 600 miles, and reached a height of 120 miles. It persisted for about 10 days. Below is a photo from the Nature paper. The chart shows the height, in hundreds of kilometers.
There are three natural possibilities scientists have considered to explain the amazing phenomenon, but none of them are satisfactory. The possibilities are listed below:
An “ice cloud.” In the Nature paper, scientists calculated whether the plume can be explained as an ice cloud. They concluded that the temperature in the Martian atmosphere would need to be more than 100 degrees colder than expected for such a cloud to have formed. Also, ice crystals have never been observed to rise more than 60 miles in the Martian atmosphere, only half the height of the mysterious plume.
A dust cloud. Summarizing the findings of the Nature paper, Time magazine says “the reflectivity was all wrong” for a dust cloud explanation. Furthermore, in order for such a huge plume to have arisen, there would have had to have been a huge dust storm on the surface of Mars in March 2012, and no such storm was observed. Previously observed dust clouds never rose higher than 37 miles – less than a third of the height of the gigantic Martian plume.
An aurora. An aurora is a cloud of charged particles from the sun, one that interacts near a planet because of the planet's magnetic field. But the magnetic field of Mars is much less than Earth's, meaning auroras are smaller and less frequent. To explain the dramatic plume as an aurora, there would need to have been some huge surge in the solar wind that produces the particles in an aurora. Such surges sometimes occur, but as the Nature paper points out, no such surge in solar activity occurred in March of 2012. The Nature paper also says an aurora model “falls short of the reported plume brightness by orders of magnitude.” The phrase “orders of magnitude” means a factor of at least 100. In short, the Mars plume seems to have been way too bright to have been an aurora.
In short, scientists have no suitable explanation for the mysterious Mars plume. We can therefore call the plume “preternatural,” which is a neutral term meaning “resembling something paranormal or supernatural.” We may therefore allow ourselves to consider some unusual possible explanations entirely different from the ones previously listed. I do not claim that any of these is likely to be true, but they are at least interesting to consider.
Possibility 1: Evidence of aliens tinkering around Mars. Whenever you raise the possibility of intelligent extraterrestrial activity on Mars, skeptics say something along the lines of: “Don't be ridiculous –conditions on Mars are too harsh for intelligent life to have evolved there.” But this argument is not convincing. Extraterrestrials may have come to Mars from some other solar system. It could be that the Mars plume is somehow the result of activity by visitors from some other solar system. Perhaps they were building some underground base, and raised a huge cloud of dust during construction. Or perhaps they are testing out some huge cloud to be used in a gaseous attack on our planet – similar to the gas attacks imagined by H.G. Wells in The War of the Worlds.
Possibility 2: Vaporous life-forms hanging around Mars. Whenever we think of extraterrestrial life, we tend to think of either beings that are flesh-and-blood like us, or beings that are robotic. But some extraterrestrials might be neither of these. They might be cloud-like entities that drift around like the gas clouds that drift through deep space. To read more about such a possibility, read my previous blog post Mind Mist: The Possibility of Gaseous Extraterrestrial Intelligence. It could be that the strange plume on Mars was either a single huge gaseous intelligence or perhaps a kind of gaseous intelligence that is a “group mind” made of a swarm of smaller entities.
Possibility 3: A sign from some mysterious superhuman intelligence, extraterrestrial, spiritual, or “other dimensional.” There is substantial evidence to suggest that some non-human intelligence may be signaling its existence to mankind, through manifestations that include a series of strange phenomena. Such phenomena may include crop circles, strange objects on the surface of Mars, UFO's and orbs. (See this site for some very dramatic newly released orb photographs that are extremely difficult to explain away.) Perhaps the gigantic Mars plume is just another sign of this type – a manifestation left by some unknown superhuman intelligence that is trying to attract our attention through various "signs and wonders."