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Despite both being rocky and terrestrial planets, Mars and Earth’s magnetic fields are poles apart. Whilst the flow of conducting molten iron in Earth’s core gives rise to electric currents that in turn generate the global magnetic field around our planet, Mars does not have the same ability to produce such a field on its own. Instead, induced electric currents in the Martian ionosphere generate the planet’s magnetosphere.
New data gathered by NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has enabled scientists to map this system of electric currents around the planet for the first time. Not only does this highlight the differences between the systems of Earth and Mars, but it can also explain how charged particles escape to space from the Martian atmosphere.
“These currents play a fundamental role in the atmospheric loss that transformed Mars from a world that could have supported life into an inhospitable desert,” Robin Ramstad, experimental physicist of the University of Colorado, explained in a statement. “We are now currently working on using the currents to determine the precise amount of energy that is drawn from the solar wind and powers atmospheric escape.”