Mars’ invisible auroras come to life in new NASA animation

James Marshall
August 10, 2020

An exceptionally bright spot of appears in Mars' nightglow just above the planet's crater. This movement speeds up a reaction that creates the nitric oxide responsible for the glow, which is only visible in ultraviolet light. This exciting phenomenon can not be seen with the naked eye since it is necessary to use ultraviolet technology. The image shows an extreme brightening in Mars' nightside atmosphere.

"The ultraviolet glow comes mostly from an altitude of about 70 kilometers (approximately 40 miles), with the brightest spot about a thousand kilometers (approximately 600 miles) across, and is as bright in the ultraviolet as Earth's northern lights", said Zac Milby, also of LASP.

Dr. Milby simplified the process defined in the study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

NASA's spacecraft MAVEN which is created to orbit around Mars in order to study the Red Planet's atmosphere has captured rather intriguing images of Mars's night sky.

Many planets have their own night glow, including Earth.

Each evening the upper atmosphere softly flickers in ultraviolet light as the sun sets and temperatures fall to minus -79.6 degrees Fahrenheit and below. NASA's MAVEN is the first mission that has collected many images of another planet's night glow.

The green glow resembles similar glows seen on Earth and Venus - and was initially spotted by the European Space Agency's Mars Express Mission in 2003.

But MAVEN was the first to capture the nightglow for what it is - a dynamic and constantly evolving phenomenon.

"It wasn't until MAVEN came along in 2014 that we could actually snap this full picture five times a day as the planet rotates", Schneider said.

Using MAVEN's Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS)-an instrument designed and built at LASP, scientists snapped images of Mars from a distance of 3,700 miles. Those far-flung permitted the group to follow the way of nightglow as it moved over the whole planet.

According to the College of Colorado Dr. Zachariah Milby and analyze co-author, the environmentally friendly nightglow appears when air currents in the atmosphere plunge to about 40 miles above the regolith or soil on Mars.

The diagram explains the lead to of Mars' glowing nightside atmosphere.

"It's a great tracer for dynamics between the layers of the atmosphere". A simulated view of the Mars globe is added digitally for context, with ice caps visible at the poles. Schneider reported the Martian ambiance is "complicated and insightful" like that of Earth's, together with how the light-weight adjustments as the period shifts.

The MAVEN team was surprised to find that the atmosphere pulsed exactly three times per night, and only during Mars' spring and autumn.

The data also revealed that "planet-circling waves" which indicate Mars' middle atmosphere is influenced by the daily pattern of solar heating from the top and disturbances from Mars' huge volcanic mountains at the bottom.

"We spent weeks thinking there was a bug in our code somewhere".

The reason why Mars is glowing so much at that unusual spot remains a mystery.

And that could lead to something that every astronaut might use: more accurate weather reports on Mars.

Moreover, Schneider said that they can tweak the supercomputers used to predict weather on Earth for observing Mars and other planets. Schneider said the observations can help scientists improve their computer models about the planet's atmospheres as well as provide a new perspective to understand the vertical winds and seasonal changes.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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