NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission (or MAVEN) has been studying Mars since it was launched into space in 2013 and new images taken by the spacecraft reveals a stunning green “nightglow” on the planet.
In a statement released by NASA, Nick Schneider, who is a professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences at the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) in Boulder, Colorado, as well as the lead author of the study, said, “MAVEN's images offer our first global insights into atmospheric motions in Mars' middle atmosphere, a critical region where air currents carry gases between the lowest and highest layers.”
The atmosphere on Mars pulses three times every night during the spring and fall. Additionally, the data collected by MAVEN revealed that waves and spirals occurred over the winter polar regions. And that’s not all; it also found that the ultraviolet “nightglow” was at its brightest over the cold poles.
Mars’ bright green glow occurs when winds bring the gases down to the dense portion of the atmosphere and a reaction occurs that causes the nitric oxide to create the glow. However, it is only seen through ultraviolet light even though it is as bright as the northern lights here on Earth. This is disappointing news for future astronauts who may visit the Red Planet as they wouldn’t be able to witness the beautiful green auroras on Mars.
Additionally, the experts found that heat from the sun and the volcanic activity on the Red Planet affect the speed and number of waves in the atmosphere. “MAVEN's main discoveries of atmosphere loss and climate change show the importance of these vast circulation patterns that transport atmospheric gases around the globe and from the surface to the edge of space,” explained Sonal Jain who is a research associate at LASP and another author of the study.
There are still many questions that need to be answered in regards to the atmosphere on Mars. Schneider said it best when he told CU Boulder Today, “The behavior of the Martian atmosphere is every bit as complicated and insightful as that of Earth's atmosphere.” Zac Milby, who is a research assistant at LASP and another author of the study, weighed in by saying, “If we're going to send people to Mars, we better understand what's going on in the atmosphere.”
The pulsing green ultraviolet light in Mars’ atmosphere is absolutely breathtaking and the pictures as well as a video can be seen here.
This isn’t the first time that we’ve heard about green glows on Mars. I reported back in June of this year that the glows on Mars had been observed for the first time ever on a planet other than Earth. This beautiful phenomenon was captured by the Nadir and Occultation for Mars Discovery (NOMAD) instrument which was on the European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). The equipment has a special Ultraviolet and Visible Spectrometer (UVIS) that studied the atmosphere on Mars between April and December of 2019.