Discrete Auroras of Mars
Part of: GS Prelims and GS – I – Geographical phenomenon and GS III – Space; Sci and tech
- Recently, the UAE’s Hope spacecraft has captured images of glowing atmospheric lights in the Mars night sky, known as discrete auroras.
- The Hope Probe, the Arab world’s first mission to Mars, took off from Earth in July 2020, and has been orbiting the Red Planet (Mars) since February 2021. It is expected to create the first complete portrait of the planet’s atmosphere.
What are Auroras?
- An Aurora is a display of light in the sky predominantly seen in the high latitude regions (Arctic and Antarctic). It is also known as a Polar light.
- They commonly occur at high northern and southern latitudes, less frequent at mid-latitudes, and seldom seen near the equator.
- While usually a milky greenish color, auroras can also show red, blue, violet, pink, and white. These colors appear in a variety of continuously changing shapes.
- Auroras are not just something that happens on Earth. If a planet has an atmosphere and magnetic field, they probably have auroras.
What are Discrete Auroras of Mars?
- Unlike auroras on Earth, which are seen only near the north and south poles, Discrete Auroras (DA) on Mars are seen all around the planet at night time.
- These DAs are traced out where energetic particles excite the atmosphere after being funneled down by a patchy network of crustal magnetic fields (originating from minerals on the surface of Mars)
- Unlike Earth, which has a strong magnetic field, the Martian magnetic field has largely died out. This is because the molten iron at the interior of the planet – which produces magnetism – has cooled.
- However, the Martian crust, which hardened billions of years ago when the magnetic field still existed, retains some magnetism.
What is its Significance?
- Studying Martian auroras is important for scientists, for it can offer clues as to why the Red Planet lost its magnetic field and thick atmosphere– among the essential requirements for sustaining life.
- With the information gathered during the UAE’s Mars mission, scientists will have a better understanding of the climate dynamics of different layers of Mars’ atmosphere.
Other Mars Missions
- NASA’s Mars 2020 Mission (Perseverance Rover): The mission is designed to better understand the geology of Mars and seek signs of ancient life.
- Tianwen-1: China’s Mars Mission: It was launched in 2019 to conduct scientific investigations into the planet’s soil, geological structure, environment, atmosphere and water.
- India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) or Mangalyaan: It was launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh by Indian Space Research Organisation in November 2013.