A spacecraft around Mars has captured the clearest view yet of the space aurora on the Red Planet.
The Achieving Emirati Hope, which reached Mars in early February, spotted the scattered glow of the aurora borealis in the Martian night sky. The astonishing observations could help scientists better understand the Martian atmosphere and how the aurora borealis on the red planet differ from similar light shows visible on Earth.
aurora borealis They occur when charged particles from space interact with atoms in the atmosphere, activating them and causing them to glow. On Earth, this plays the role of the northern and southern lights. When high-energy particles from the sun collide with the planet’s magnetic field, they energize atoms in the upper atmosphere to create stunning displays of green, violet, red and blue lights.
But on Mars, the aurora is different; Because the Red Planet is believed to have lost its global magnetic field billions of years ago, in a mysterious process that stripped away Mars’ once-thick atmosphere.
“What we’re seeing instead are magnetic fields that are somewhat unique to Mars,” said Justin Deegan, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado and deputy science leader for the Hope orbiter mission. “It arose from minerals in the crust of Mars that formed during the early solar system, when we thought Mars had a global magnetic field like Earth.”
Degan added that the remnants of Mars’ magnetic field are mainly confined to these minerals scattered around the planet.
“Because of that, charged particles are not directed toward the north and south poles, like the places where we see the aurora borealis on Earth,” he said. “On Mars, they’re kind of all over the place.”
These types of atmospheric light displays, localized over specific magnetic regions, are known as discrete auroras.
Scientists are keen to study the aurora borealis on Mars because they not only reveal the characteristics of the planet’s atmosphere but can solve other mysteries in the solar system.
“It plays out these big-picture questions about how planets interact with their star,” Deegan said. “How does energy from the sun affect the upper atmosphere of the planets?”
While Mars and Earth are two completely different worlds, what’s happening on the Red Planet can explain things closer to home.
“There were times in Earth’s past where the global magnetic field was redirected or became weak, so during those transitional periods, Earth was closer to Venus or Mars,” Degan said. “In that sense, Mars can tell us things about Earth that we can’t really study at the moment.”
The separate aurora borealis were observed in late April and early May, when scientists with UAE mission to explore Mars They were testing instruments aboard the Hope Probe. The orbiter, which was launched into space in July 2020, is designed to study the atmosphere of Mars.
The auroras, captured in ultraviolet light, were the first major scientific discoveries of the UAE’s mission to Mars.
“The whole science team is elated,” Degan said. “It was nice to have such a wonderful moment and it was so rewarding to see it so early.”