Scientists on the United Arab Emirates Mars mission have discovered a worm-shaped aurora stretching across the middle of the Red Planet.
The discovery of “discrete winding” auroras, or bright lights high in the atmosphere that arise from solar activity interacting with magnetic fields, came from observations by the Hope orbiter, which has been in operation since February 2021. Mars it has only an irregular magnetic field. making auroras difficult to track. Hope has already helped with better observations of local varieties of nocturnal auroras (diffuse auroras and discrete auroras) that have eluded other missions.
But these other types of lights are nowhere near the scale of the new low-key, sinuous auroras, which engulfed half the planet. Observations on that scale required Hope’s unique ability to take full-disk “snapshots” of the thin Martian atmosphere in action, the officials said.
“We are seeing discrete auroral effects on a massive scale and in ways we never anticipated,” Hessa Al Matroushi, EMM’s lead scientist, said in an emailed statement.
Related: The United Arab Emirates’ Hope mission to Mars in photos
The previously studied types of Martian auroras are caused by a variety of factors. The discrete aurora, for example, apparently occurs over magnetic minerals in the planet’s crust, while the proton aurora is caused by interactions between the solar wind, which is the constant stream of charged particles blowing off our sun, and hydrogen. in the thin Martian. atmosphere.
The newly identified inconspicuous sinuous aurora is likely more similar in origin to the diffuse aurora, which is caused by intense solar storms, according to the release.
Hope gathered her observations in ultraviolet light when a solar storm hit Mars. Conveniently, such solar storms will likely occur more frequently in the years leading up to 2025, when the sun’s 11-year solar cycle is forecast to peak.
Scientists hope that a better understanding of the discrete sinuous aurora’s appearance and other features of the aurora could refine their understanding of the solar wind and the ways that Martian magnetism affects the planet.
“Since those first discrete aurora observations, we have continued to see incredible new aurora patterns that open up new insights into the interactions of charged particles in the Martian atmosphere,” said Al Matroushi. “Here is a lot of new information for the EMM [Emirates Mars Mission] scientific team to work with.
However, detailed explanation is scarce so far. That said, there could be more information lurking in archival data from other missions, particularly that collected by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft and NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) spacecraft that observe the atmosphere of the Red Planet.
“The unobtrusive, sinuous aurora was a shocking discovery that, in many ways, had us scratching our heads and going back to the drawing board,” Rob Lillis, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who works on the ultraviolet spectrometer instrument Emirates Mars said in the same statement.
“We have ideas, but not a solid explanation for why we are seeing intense auroras in this way and on planetary scales.”