UAE Mars gets new views of the red planet’s twilight

When a barrage of charged protons and electrons from the sun erupts our way, Earth’s magnetic field deftly deflects it around the planet. This buffet generates shimmering, glowing curtains of color known as the aurora borealis in the polar regions of the northern hemisphere, and australian aurora in the south.

This same phenomenon occurs on Mars as well. But there are not only the northern lights and the southern lights, but also the tropical lights, the lights of mid-latitudes, the eastern lights and the western lights – all over the planet.

The The Al-Amal spacecraft launched by the United Arab Emirates And the It has been orbiting the red planet since FebruaryTake unique photos of these atmospheric dancing lights, known as discrete twilights.

Mission officials released the photos on Wednesday.

“It will allow opening new doors for study when it comes to the Martian atmosphere, and how it interacts with solar activity,” said Hessa Al Matrooshi, science leader for the first interplanetary mission by the UAE.

Flares on Mars aren’t just at the top and bottom of the planet, because the magnetic field around the planet has largely faded as the molten iron cooled inside. But parts of Mars’ crust that solidified several billion years ago when Mars had a global magnetic field maintain some of that magnetism.

“It’s very patchy and unevenly distributed,” said Justin Deegan, deputy science leader.

While Earth’s magnetic field is like a large magnetic rod, on Mars, Dr. Deegan, a researcher at the University of Colorado’s Atmospheric Laboratory, said, “it’s a lot like you took a bag of magnets and threw it into the planet’s crust.” and Space Physics, which is cooperating with the UAE on the mission. “And they all indicated in different ways. And they have different strengths.”

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The detached magnetic fields act as lenses to nurture the solar wind particles into different parts of the Martian atmosphere, but then they collide with atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere, creating the aurora borealis.

Previous Mars orbiters have also spotted auroras, but Hope, with a high-altitude orbit ranging from 12,400 miles to 27,000 miles above the surface, can capture a global view of the night side of Mars.

Capturing images of the aurora wasn’t part of the planned baseline science observations for the Hope spacecraft, which entered orbit around Mars in February. The mission is trying to study the dynamics of the Martian atmosphere near the surface that influence how quickly the Martian atmosphere leaks into space.

But even before the probe was launched, scientists realized that one of the instruments, which monitors the far ultraviolet rays of the spectrum to measure levels of oxygen and hydrogen in the upper atmosphere, might be able to pick up the auroras as well.

“Our guess was we’d see something, but we weren’t sure how often,” Dr. Degan said. “What’s really cool is that we saw it basically right away, and with such clarity. It was unmistakable.”

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft can capture images similar to Martian auroras when its elliptical orbit takes it away from the planet, and it can also measure and identify the solar particles that create the light show as it passes near it. But it cannot perform both measurements simultaneously.

By coordinating Hope’s aurora images with MAVEN’s particle measurements, planetary scientists may be able to form a more complete understanding of Mars’ night lights.

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“Having two spacecraft is really what you want for this,” Dr. Degan said.

Olga Dmitrieva

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