Two strange, cloud-like plumes reaching high above the surface of Mars are causing a stir among scientists.
On two separate occasions in March and April 2012, amateur astronomers reported definite plume-like features developing on the planet.
The plumes were seen rising to altitudes of over 155 miles (250 km) above the same region of Mars, and could help explain what makes up the Martian atmosphere.
Amateur astronomers have spotted huge cloudlike plumes erupting from Mars – a phenomenon that scientists are at a loss to explain.
The bright flares, which have now died away, towered higher than anything else observed in the Martian atmosphere. Their tops reached some 150 miles in altitude, more than twice as high as the highest Martian clouds, and they sprawled across 300 to 600 miles, researchers report in this week's Nature, a science journal.
The researchers initially were skeptical, but "we came to the conclusion that what we were seeing is actually real," says study co-author Antonio García Muñoz, a planetary scientist at the European Space Agency. The plumes are "exceptional. … It's difficult to come to terms with this."