On Earth, Auroras usually occur at poles as “dancing” colorful lights in the night skies. Other planets in our solar system have auroras, also, and Mars is one of them. However, the NASA’s MAVEN probe discovered new, unusual auroras on Mars that mostly occur on the day side of the Red Planet.
Commonly, auroras happen when electrons, energetic particles, ignite the gas particles in a planet’s atmosphere making them shine in the night skies. Sometimes, however, the protons are involved in the auroras formation, instead of electrons. Thanks to the NASA’s MAVEN probe, the scientists now know that protons can form the unusual auroras on Mars.
Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, or MAVEN, employs the Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) to examine the Mars’ atmosphere and notice that the UV lights from hydrogen gas particles in Red Planet’s upper atmosphere shine, puzzling, for a few hours.
The event occurred at the same time when another NASA’s MAVEN probe’s device, the Solar Wind Ion Analyzer (SWIA), observed solar wind protons.
NASA’s MAVEN space probe discovered how unusual auroras on Mars occur
The scientists were baffled on how the protons managed to cross the magnetic obstacle that usually diverts solar winds, but also on how protons emitted light since atoms require electrons to do that.
“As they approach Mars, the protons coming in with the solar wind transform into neutral atoms by stealing electrons from the outer edge of the huge cloud of hydrogen surrounding the planet. The bow shock can only divert charged particles, so these neutral atoms continue right on through,” explained Justin Deighan, a researcher at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics from the University of Colorado – Boulder.
“The Martian proton auroras are more than a light show,” added Jasper Halekas from the University of Iowa. According to him, Mars’ magnetic field doesn’t wholly divert solar winds.
Protons auroras also happen on Earth but very rarely because our planet’s magnetic field diverts solar wind to a greater extent than that of the Red Planet. Also, according to researchers, the protons auroras could also occur on Venus and Titan, one of the Saturn’s moons.