In a joint effort between NASAs MAVEN spacecraft and the United Arab Emirates Emirates Mars objective (EMM), scientists have observed an uncommonly chaotic interaction between the solar wind and Mars upper atmosphere, producing a special ultraviolet aurora. The phenomenon represents an uncommon incident in Martian space weather condition, and researchers are thrilled to take advantage of future cooperations between spacecraft to keep an eye out for repeat occasions.
The odd, patchy aurora produced by the solar wind was observed twice, on august 11 and august 30 this year. Similar aurora have actually been observed routinely considering that 2018, however typically, it takes place in a smooth, even band that covers the world. Last months aurora was patchy, variable, and in your area taking place by contrast.
Its a particular type of aurora called a proton aurora, and occurs on the day-side of the world when hydrogen atoms from the Sun, stripped of their electron, blast towards the red planet and permeate the bow shock, a magnetic barrier that naturally guards Mars environment. A few of the protons have the ability to bypass the bow shock by stealing electrons back from the hectic area of area around Mars, becoming neutral and breaking through to hit the upper atmosphere. The result is an ultraviolet aurora that, until now, always seemed to happen as a coherent whole across the face of Mars, however has actually now been seen in distinct patches.
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The odd, patchy aurora developed by the solar wind was observed twice, on august 11 and august 30 this year. Its a particular type of aurora called a proton aurora, and takes place on the day-side of the world when hydrogen atoms from the Sun, stripped of their electron, blast towards the red world and permeate the bow shock, a magnetic barrier that naturally guards Mars atmosphere. The outcome is an ultraviolet aurora that, till now, always appeared to take place as a meaningful entire throughout the face of Mars, but has now been seen in unique patches.
Bottom image reveals the freshly discovered development mechanism for irregular proton aurora. Working together, they can help us understand Mars in a way that they can not do on their own, including studying its distinct auroras.
Proton auroras happen on Earth too, but they cant be seen by human eyes, and are rarer due to Earths stronger electromagnetic field.
Top image shows the typical proton aurora development mechanism first found in 2018. Bottom image reveals the newly found development system for irregular proton aurora. Credits: Emirates Mars Mission/UAE Space Agency.
It took observations from both Maven and EMM to understand what was going on. EMMs Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrograph (EMUS) instrument is constantly scanning the upper astmosphere of the world, expecting evidence of atmospheric escape into space and modifications in composition. Its detector is best for catching the ultraviolet light triggered by the proton aurora.
MAVEN, on the other hand, captures in-situ data, sensation the plasma of the solar wind as it goes by with a magnetometer and ion analyzers.
When EMMs data was compared with MAVENs, it was clear that the patchy proton aurora was an outcome of a highly disrupted plasma environment at the time of the events.
Mike Chaffin of the University of Colorado Boulder discussed that “EMMs observations suggested that the aurora was so prevalent and chaotic that the plasma environment around Mars need to have been really disrupted, to the point that the solar wind was directly impacting the upper atmosphere any place we observed auroral emission … By combining EMM auroral observations with MAVEN measurements of the auroral plasma environment, we can identify and confirm this hypothesis that what we were seeing was basically a map of where the solar wind was drizzling down onto the planet.”
Images from August 5 show the common climatic conditions (no uncommon activity). On August 11 and August 30, the instrument observed irregular aurora showing unstable interactions with the solar wind.Credits: EMM/EMUS
Basically, it was a momentary breakdown of Mars natural defences versus solar radiation, when particles had the ability to take benefit of the disorderly space weather to discover a method to the planets atmosphere.
MAVEN got to Mars in 2014 and was joined by EMM in 2021. There are more than half a dozen probes in Martian orbit, each with different specialties and capabilities. Interacting, they can help us understand Mars in a manner that they can refrain from doing on their own, including studying its distinct auroras.
Find out more:
Evan Gough, “Mars has auroras too, we simply cant see them.” Universe Today.
Willow Reed, “MAVEN and EMM Make First Observations of Patchy Proton Aurora at Mars.” NASA.
Costs Steigerwald/ Nancy Jones, “NASAs MAVEN Spacecraft Finds That “Stolen” Electrons Enable Unusual Aurora on Mars.” NASA.
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