Scientists have long hypothesised how the red planet is covered in dust. As on Earth dust is caused by geological formations like rocks, volcanoes are eroded or impacted by wind and water. Mars simply does not have enough natural elements like rivers, seas or volcanoes to cause the amount of dust continually covering the surface, it has been a scientific mystery.

Now there is a scientific breakthrough on where the dust is coming from and why. An extremely old formation on Mars is the cause of the dust covering the whole planet. And since it was discovered in the 1960’s some have contended it is not geological but the remains 

The Medusae Fossae, a single geological object that is slowly crumbling and spreading dust and debris over the Red Planet. This formation is around a thousand kilometres across the equator of Mars. And it is being analyzed by scientists thanks to data collected from the Mars rovers. They have matched it to the dust covering the surface of Mars as it contains matching elements sulfur and chlorine.

From the study in Nature Communications published this week.

“Mars wouldn’t be nearly this dusty if it wasn’t for this one enormous deposit that is gradually eroding over time and polluting the planet, essentially,” said Kevin Lewis, co-author of the paper and an assistant professor of Earth and planetary science at the Johns Hopkins University in the US.


The formation causing all the dust and dirt arises from volcanic origins. It has been eroded in size over 3 billion years, giving plenty of time for the dust to spread. At some stage it was half as big as the United States but is now down to around 20% of the size.

Scientists spotted ridges known as yardangs sculpted by the flow of the eroding wind. They worked out how much material has worn away over time, and believe it can coat the entire planet in a two to 12-metre-thick layer of dust. That matches the levels of dust detected on the Martian surface.

Dust is much more important on Mars than the boring old dust on Earth. It actually controls the planet’s temperature by absorbing and scattering solar and infrared radiation. Around the atmosphere of Mars dust is swirling everywhere and would be an issue for any potential human explorations of Mars. It can cover solar panels on robots robbing them of energy, contaminate sensitive instruments, and it isn’t something astronauts want to be inhaling or getting into their equipment.


But will this discovery put to rest the speculation that this structure is remnants on a 3 billion year old spaceship crash or even an ancient alien civilisation on Mars?