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Researchers believe that Mars is forming a ring system similar to that of the planet Saturn. This theory has been prevalent for some years, with astronomers postulating that in a period of 20 to 70 million years that the Martian moon Phobos will break apart and create a ring of debris around Mars. But now, two researchers from the Physical Research Laboratory in India have suggested that this process has already begun and that the red planet is in the process of developing a proto-ring system.
Mars might be forming a Saturn-like ring system
The two researchers Jayesh Pabari and P. J. Bhalodi, worked using data accumulated from NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft which has been in orbit around Mars in September 2014 to get an accurate view of the atmospheric composition of the outer reaches of Mars’s atmosphere. The researchers were particularly intrigued by a cloud of dust that enclosed the planet at an altitude of 150 to 1000 kilometers (90 to 620 miles) above the Martian surface.
Investigation of the dust cloud found that it was primarily comprised of interplanetary debris. However, somewhat unusually, they also found that a small amount of the material (approximately 0.6% of the atmospheric composition) was derived from one of the two Martian moons. According to Pabari and Bhalodi, this could be the beginning of a ring formation that would last for the rest of Mars’s planetary life.
However, this exciting new theory has not been without its critics. MAVEN was not specifically designed to look for patterns in the dust surrounding the red planet, and therefore it is only possible to draw speculative conclusions about a potential new ring system using data accrued by the NASA’s spacecraft.
“To say anything definitive about the dust, you really need to have a dedicated dust detector, ” said Laila Anderssen, from the University of Colorado Boulder, “We still haven’t seen a good indication that there is significant material in the vicinity of the moons. So I think it’s a long shot.” Despite that, Anderssen said that she was open to the possibility that the two Indian researchers were correct and said; “One should never say never.”