The team of scientists behind the abstract recreated Mars’ atmosphere by stirring up small pieces of volcanic basalt, which are similar to the type of rocks detected on Mars, inside low-pressure containers, according to Inside Science. They then used jets of carbon dioxide gas to stir up the particles inside the containers in such a way that kept the dust inside away from the container’s walls. On Mars, those walls don’t exist so if the sparks appear as a result of the collision between that dust and the walls, it wouldn’t count as a direct simulation of what occurs on Mars.
To the surprise of the team, sparks began to fly and scientist Méndez Harper believes this implies that dust storms on Mars “[crackle] with electricity.” Harper states in the abstract that because of Mars’ lower pressure compared to Earth, sparks discharge easier on the Red Planet, which means the long streaks of lightning we’re used to likely don’t occur there. Instead, that electrical discharge translates into dust storms that flash with tiny sparks that cause the dust clouds to glow purple.
Harper says this phenomenon is called a “corona glow” and that NASA might get a glimpse of that courtesy of its Perseverance rover that landed on Mars last week.
“You could imagine that as [the small helicopter that flew Perseverance to Mars called Ingenuity] takes off, it might churn up a bunch of dust,” Harper said. “I look forward to watching that.”
For more news on Mars, read about how researchers are trying to turn the Red Planet green and check out this story about how researchers may have new ideas about the formation of Mars.
Wesley LeBlanc is a freelance news writer and guide maker for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @LeBlancWes.