UAE’s Mars Orbiter Gets New Views of Red Planet Auroras


When barrages of charged protons and electrons from the sun come our way, Earth’s magnetic field deftly deflects them around the planet. This impact produces shimmering, shimmering curtains of color known as the aurora borealis in the polar regions of the Northern Hemisphere and the aurora australis in the south.

The same phenomenon happens on Mars. But there are not only northern lights and southern lights, but also equatorial lights, mid-latitude lights, eastern lights, western lights – all over the planet.

Hope spacecraft launched by the United Arab Emirates and orbiting the red planet since februarycaptured unique images of these dancing atmospheric lights known as discrete auroras.

Mission officials released the photos on Wednesday.

Hessa al-Matroushi, science leader of the UAE’s first interplanetary mission, said it will “allow new doors of study to open when it comes to the Martian atmosphere” and “how it interacts with solar activity”.

The glows on Mars aren’t just above and below the planet, because the magnetic field around the planet has largely died out as the molten iron in the interior cools. But pieces of Martian crust that hardened a few billion years ago, when Mars had a global magnetic field, retain some of this magnetism.

“They’re very uneven and unevenly distributed,” said Justin Deighan, deputy science leader.

A researcher at the University of Colorado Atmospheric Laboratory, Dr. While Earth’s magnetic field is like a large bar magnet on Mars, “it’s more like you took a bag of magnets and threw them into the planet’s crust,” Deighan said. and Space Physics collaborating with the UAE on the mission. “And they all point in different directions. And they have different strengths.”

Discrete magnetic fields act like lenses that direct solar wind particles into different parts of the Martian atmosphere, but then crash into atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere, creating the glow of auroras.

Previous Mars orbiters have also observed auroras, but with a high-altitude orbit ranging between 12,400 miles and 27,000 miles above the surface, Hope can get a spherical view of the night side of Mars.

Taking pictures of the auroras was not part of the planned basic science observations for the Hope spacecraft, which entered Mars orbit in February. The mission seeks to study the dynamics of the Martian atmosphere near the surface, which affects how quickly the Martian atmosphere seeps into space.

But even before research was started, scientists realized that one of the instruments that made observations in the far ultraviolet part of the spectrum to measure oxygen and hydrogen levels in the upper atmosphere could also pick out auroras.

Dr. “Our prediction was that we would see something, but we weren’t sure how often it would happen,” Deighan said. “The really cool thing is that we basically see it right away and so clearly. It was unclear.”

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft can also take similar pictures of Martian auroras as its elliptical orbit takes it away from the planet, and can also directly measure and identify the solar particles that make up the light show as they pass close by. However, it cannot do both measurements at the same time.

By coordinating Hope’s aurora images with MAVEN’s particle measurements, planetary scientists can piece together a more complete understanding of Mars’ nighttime lights.

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


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