The United Arab Emirates Hope mission, which is in orbit around Mars, managed to capture the best images ever taken of the Red Planet’s dawns. These images taken by Hope may help researchers understand how Mars lost its thick atmosphere billions of years ago.
Auroras occur when high-energy particles collide with the planet’s atmosphere, part of the energy of the atoms spreads through the air causing it to glow, thus causing the auroras. On Earth, these particles are directed towards our planet’s poles by magnetic field lines, but Mars does not have an Earth-like magnetic field.
However, parts of Mars’ crust still have a remnant magnetism, as the planet has had a magnetic field in the past, so a phenomenon called a discrete aurora may occur over these magnetic regions.
The glow of the Martian auroras was supposed to be seen on the night side of the planet, but they were never seen in visible light. The auroras are erased and all instruments sensitive to visible light on Mars are designed to make images in the sunlight conditions, ie in the day part of the planet.
Hope imaged in ultraviolet light, a wavelength shorter than what other probes have been using to image Mars, which allowed it to record auroras in more detail.
Understanding the discrete auroras of Mars can help researchers understand how the planet changed from a possibly inhabited world with a thick atmosphere to a dry world with a very tenuous atmosphere as we have today. The question is to understand how the energy in the system was transported and swept the upper atmosphere, and the auroras are at the heart of the answer to that question.
Hope captured these images shortly after entering Mars orbit in early 2021. The mission is planned to last two years, so it will be possible to examine these auroras in more detail as the mission progresses.
The Hope mission has the ability to capture images of these types more regularly, so it will be possible to see Martian auroras better and more often, so researchers can study more, and better understand how and why they occur.