NASA MAVEN spacecraft spies ultraviolet glow around Mars

NASA is doing some very cool things on and in orbit above Mars. One of the spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet is called MAVEN. Over the last couple of years, MAVEN made some observations of the Martian atmosphere in the ultraviolet spectrum and discovered something very cool. When the atmosphere is viewed in the ultraviolet spectrum, the sky has nightglow that pulses in a green color invisible to the naked eye.

The glow is only at night and only happens during certain Martian seasons. The pulsing and the glowing atmospheric phenomenon isn’t fully understood but shows that the Martian atmosphere is more complicated than we might think. The study was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Space Physics, and was made possible using the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrometer instrument aboard MAVEN.

MAVEN has been orbiting Mars since 2014 and marks the first time the sort of instrument has been in orbit around the Red Planet. The study data was gathered over a two consecutive year period, which equals 687 Earth days. Analyzing in ultraviolet wavelengths allowed scientists to visualize the effects of winds around the entire planet and waves high in the Martian atmosphere.

The data recorded by MAVEN offers the first global insights in atmospheric motions in the middle area of the Martian atmosphere. Scientists say that particular region is critical and is where air currents carry gases between the lowest and highest layers of the atmosphere. During the research, scientists were surprised to find that the atmosphere pulsed three times per night, but only during the spring and fall.

Data also showed unexpected waves and spirals over the winter poles, and the spacecraft was able to confirm that the brightest areas of glow were over the poles during the winter. The ultraviolet glow comes mostly from an altitude of about 40 miles above the surface of Mars, with the brightest area spanning approximately 600 miles. Scientists say this area was as bright in the ultraviolet as the northern lights on Earth.

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