NASA, UAE's EMM observe highly dynamic proton aurora at Mars
An uncanny Martian phenomenon observed by NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) probe and the United Arab Emirates' Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) is the new talk of the town. The two missions joined forces to study the ultraviolet proton aurora on Mars. New findings by the probes have finally shed light on what causes the patchy and dynamic aurora on Mars.
Why does this story matter?
- The joint observation of patchy proton aurora by MAVEN and EMM shows us how data-sharing can help in unlocking the mystery of various cosmic events.
- Multi-vantage-point measurements of the same event or region will give us a better insight into the event. This is what led scientists to unlock the reason behind the patchy aurora.
- Such collaborations will make future Martian research easier.
What causes proton aurora on Mars?
The eerie Martian aurora happens when positively charged protons in the solar wind interact with Mars' upper atmosphere and become ionized. The ionized particles steal an electron from hydrogen in the upper atmosphere and become neutral. This charge change allows them to bypass Mars' flimsy magnetic field's bow shock. They then enter the upper atmosphere and emit ultraviolet light.
EMM's data showed that the aurora is patchy and dynamic
Proton aurora on Mars was first discovered by MAVEN in 2018. Based on previous observations by MAVEN and ESA, it was assumed that this phenomenon was smooth and evenly distributed. However, observations by EMM said otherwise. It shows that the aurora is patchy, highly dynamic, and variable. This prompted the two missions to join forces. MAVEN took measurements while EMM simultaneously pictured the aurora.
MAVEN measured the plasma environment while EMM observed the aurora
EMM's observations about proton aurora suggested that there are some unknown forces at play. In the joint operation, MAVEN's full suite of plasma equipment measured the plasma environment around Mars, while EMM imaged the aurora. By combining these two, scientists were finally able to understand what are the reasons behind the patchiness and variable distribution of these aurorae.
Chaotic interaction between Mars and solar winds causes patchy aurora
EMM's observations suggested that the plasma environment around Mars should be very turbulent for the aurora to be so disorganized and dynamic. NASA agrees with that. It also says that this plasma turbulence leads to solar wind directly impacting Mars' upper atmosphere. It is this chaotic interaction between Mars and the solar wind that causes the patchy aurora.
What does this discovery mean for future studies on Mars?
Normally, it is difficult for solar winds to reach Mars' upper atmosphere. Therefore, the chaotic interaction between the solar winds and Mars' upper atmosphere is a new window into a rare atmospheric event. We are yet to understand the implications of this on the Martian atmosphere. More studies will be required to understand how these conditions affect the evolution of the planet.