Scientists have discovered a creepy new kind of Martian aurora

(ORDO NEWS) — We have a new understanding of the amazing Martian phenomenon thanks to the joint work of two orbiting space probes.

NASA’s Martian Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) and the United Arab Emirates Hope Probe have joined forces. to study the ultraviolet proton auroras that dance and glow high in the Martian atmosphere.

The new study shows that these diurnal phenomena are not always scattered, inexpressive and evenly distributed, but are very dynamic and changeable, contain small-scale structures.

“EMM (Emirates Mars Mission) observations showed that the aurora was so widespread and disorganized that the plasma environment around Mars must have been really disrupted to the point where the solar wind had a direct effect on the upper atmosphere everywhere we go.” observed auroral radiation, says planetary scientist Mike Chaffin of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“By combining EMM aurora observations with MAVEN measurements of the aurora plasma environment, we can confirm this hypothesis and determine that what we saw was, in fact, a map of where the solar wind was hitting the planet.”

Proton auroras, the most common auroras on the red planet, were first described in 2018, as seen in MAVEN data. They form in a very similar way to how auroras form on Earth; however, since Mars is a very different beast, with no inner magnetosphere like Earth’s, the end result is unique to Mars.

The closest magnetic field the red planet actually has to the global magnetic field is flimsy. caused by the buzzing of charged particles slowing down on impact with the atmosphere. Weak as it is, it is usually enough to deflect many of the high-speed protons and neutrons that fall from the Sun.

Proton auroras are formed when positively charged protons from the solar wind collide with Mars. hydrogen shell and ionize, stealing electrons from hydrogen atoms to become neutral.

This exchange of charges allows neutral particles to bypass the bow shock of the magnetic field around Mars, settling in the upper atmosphere and emitting ultraviolet light.

This process was thought to reliably produce a uniform aurora on the day side of Mars. New observations show the opposite.

Instead of the expected smooth profile, the Hope data show that auroras are sometimes patchy, suggesting that unknown processes may be at work during the formation of these auroras. aurorae.

This is where MAVEN comes into play. NASA’s orbiter is equipped with a full array of plasma instruments to study the solar wind, magnetic environment, and thermal ions in space around Mars.

He simultaneously took measurements while Hope photographed the strange auroras and combined the data. allowed scientists to reconstruct the cause of this.

Scientists have discovered a creepy new kind of Martian aurora
Diagram comparing the formation mechanisms of normal and inhomogeneous proton aurora

“By examining the Emirates Martian mission’s many observations of patchy aurorae that have different shapes and locations, and combining these images with plasma measurements taken by NASA’s Martian atmosphere and the Volatile EvolutioN mission, we concluded that a number of processes can create spotty auroras,” the researchers write in their paper.

“This patchy aurora is mainly the result of plasma turbulence, which under some circumstances results in direct deposition of the solar wind over the entire Martian dayside.”

In other words, a rare chaotic interaction between Mars and the solar wind is responsible for the spotted aurora; although it is not entirely clear what the impact on the Martian surface is.

However, it is possible that there are implications for the long-term loss of the atmosphere and water; without a global magnetic field, Mars keeps losing both.

Interestingly, proton aurorae both smooth and patchy may help us understand at least one of them, as the hydrogen involved is partly created by water from the Martian atmosphere leaking into space.

“In the future, a lot of data and modeling studies will be required,” the researchers write, “to reveal the full implications of these conditions for the evolution of the Martian atmosphere.”

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