Inquisitive

Mars wobbles on its axis leaving astronomers scratching their heads

The red planet is rotating like a spinning toy

While the study of planets is always exciting, perhaps what takes place on Mars is even more of a thrill given it is Earth’s neighbour.

Just a few weeks ago, the world watched in awe as NASA’s newest robot named Perseverance landed to continue investigating if and when life existed on the planet.

Now, news of a mysterious wobble that is moving Mars’ poles around has come to light.

[Credit: NASA]

This wobble means that the red planet (named so because its soil looks like rusty iron) is teetering around like a spinning top does when it loses speed, with Mars refusing to rotate on a straight axis.

While a similar movement takes place on Earth, and astronomers are able to explain why, they have been left scratching their heads as to why it happens on Mars.

The reason is, here on Earth our wobble is much more pronounced.

Our planet’s poles wander 900cm from its axis of rotation in a circular pattern that repeats every 433 days. However, over on Mars, it oscillates 10cm off its axis every 200 days.

[Credit: NASA]

While the activity is said to happen in planets that aren’t perfectly round, why is it so significant?

It is believed the new findings could prove a major breakthrough as they give insight into the interior of Mars, including its material properties and thermal state.

One of the reason astronomers are so baffled by the Chandler wobble – named after astronomer Seth Carlo Chandler, who discovered the phenomenon more than a century ago – is because it was believed the Mars poles would resolve themselves naturally.

Yet the wobble is still going strong!

It is believed a combination of pressure changes in the atmosphere and oceans could be the reason why the wobble continues to, well, wobble.

[Credit: NASA]

Mars is the fourth planet from the sun, more than 142million miles from it to be precise. While it is the next planet beyond Earth, it is actually only about half the size.

Other quirky facts include a day on Mars being 24.6 hours, meaning a year is 687 Earth days, and that it has two small moons named Phobos and Deimos.

This latest activity comes just as a new phenomenon is taking place on Neptune too.

We recently reported that the eight planet in our solar system, and therefore furthest from the sun, was home to a storm that has mysteriously reversed direction.

Storms in themselves are not uncommon, as being 2.8billion miles from the sun means it gets very cold with temperatures of -220°C, yet the movement has never been seen before.

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