MAVEN watches a light show on Mars caused by a major solar storm

(ORDO NEWS) — MAVEN – the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission – is the only object on Mars capable of simultaneously observing the activity of the Sun and the reaction of the rarefied Martian atmosphere.

Real-time analysis and modeling of solar eruptions on Mars also allowed the MAVEN team to correctly predict when an evolving solar storm would reach the Red Planet.

Accurate space weather forecasting is critical to protecting current missions and future explorers of the Red Planet because, unlike Earth, Mars lacks a global magnetic field to shield it from the damaging radiation that solar storms can bring.

On August 27, an active region on the Sun produced a series of solar flares. The flare activity was accompanied by coronal mass ejections and a powerful gas explosion.

This ejection caused one of the brightest solar energy particle (SEP) events ever observed by the MAVEN spacecraft.

SEPs that were accelerated before ejection were spotted on Mars by the MAVEN SEP detector. MAVEN instruments were able to measure the strength of the solar storm.

Particles ejected from the solar storm bombarded the Martian atmosphere, causing bright auroras in the ultraviolet wavelengths.

The MAVEN Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument observed two types of auroras: diffuse and proton.

Sumedha Gupta, a research graduate student on the IUVS team at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder, first noticed the match during her routine check of incoming data a few days after the event: “I was so surprised to see the proton glow at the same time as the diffuse, because that this has never happened before. They both increase with solar activity, so we hope this will continue!”

This light show is a sign of things to come for Mars and for the MAVEN team. The Sun is becoming more active as it approaches solar maximum in 2024-2025. Solar maximum is the period of greatest solar activity in the 11-year solar cycle.

This means that the frequency of coronal mass ejections and SEPs is expected to increase and they will continue to affect the Martian atmosphere.

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