A probe launched by the United Arab Emirates to explore the Martian environment captured a very unusual phenomenon on camera: a nighttime aurora on Mars.
|Artist’s impression of what a human eye would witness the Auroras as captured by the Probe.|
Before the Hope orbiter’s main research mission even started, one of its scientific sensors captured the aurora, a notoriously transient phenomenon that has proven to be extremely difficult to analyze.
Images released by the team show the auroras forming dazzling structures against the black Martian night sky.
It’s a delightful unexpected encounter — the finding wasn’t even part of the mission’s core science observations — that might pave the way for many more fascinating discoveries later this year on the Emirates Mars Mission.
Justin Deighan, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado and deputy science lead of the mission, told Space.com: “They’re not easy to catch, and so that’s why seeing them basically right away with [Emirates Mars Mission] was kind of exciting and unexpected. It’s definitely something that was on our radar, so to speak, but just looking at our first set of nighttime data and saying, ‘Hey, wait a second — is that? — it can’t be — it is!’ — that was a lot of fun,”
Auroras on Earth are connected to the planet’s magnetic field. When charged particles are blasted into the atmosphere, their trajectories are altered, causing existing particles in the atmosphere to ionize and produce light of various hues as they interact.
On Mars, though, these auroras aren’t limited to the north and south poles; they may be seen throughout the planet.
The magnetic atmosphere of Mars is not aligned like a single enormous bar magnet, as Earth’s is.
Instead, it’s as if “you grabbed a bag of magnets and poured them into the crust of the earth. They’re all pointed different ways, they have different strengths.”” as Deighan explains.
These distributed magnetic fields enable solar wind particles to scatter in all directions, interacting with atoms and molecules in the planet’s upper atmosphere and causing the light.
The Ultraviolet Spectrometer on the probe was designed to analyse the huge halo of hydrogen and oxygen that surrounds Mars and eventually disappears into free space.