Monday, May 18, 2015

Green Auroras Detected on Mars

The MAVEN Mars probe has detected widespread green
auroras on Mars (even though this NASA artist's
conception shows them as violet). (NASA image)

Mars is commonly seen from Earth as reddish in color, but NASA says the planet routinely has green auroras. Evidence of auroras on Mars was first detected 10 years ago by the European Space Agency's Mars Express probe, but NASA Science News says the currently-orbiting MAVEN Mars probe has discovered that they are widespread and wide-ranging. 

Mars does not have a magnetic field surrounding the whole planet as Earth does, but rather sporadic "magnetic umbrellas" that are remnants of an ancient global field, and they are regularly "lit up" by particles from the sun. But according to researchers at the University of Colorado, which operates MAVEN's Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument, these umbrellas are mostly found in Mars's southern hemisphere and there is now evidence of widespread auroras in the northern hemisphere as well. 

"The (solar) particles seem to precipitate into the atmosphere anywhere they want," says IUVS lead scientist Nick Schneider. "Magnetic fields in the solar wind drape across Mars … and the charged particles just follow those field lines down into the atmosphere."