The Emirates Mars Mission, the first interplanetary exploration undertaken by an Arab nation, released the first global images of Mars in the far-ultraviolet. This provides new insights into the discrete aurora phenomenon in Mars’ nightside atmosphere. The images have revolutionary implications for human understanding of the interactions between solar radiation, Mars’ magnetic fields and the planetary atmosphere.
“These unique global snapshots of the discrete aurora of Mars are the first time such detailed and clear observations have been made globally, as well as across previously unobservable wavelengths. The implications for our understanding of Mars’ atmospheric and magnetospheric science are tremendous and provide new support to the theory that solar storms are not necessary to drive Mars’ aurora,’ commented Emirates Mars Mission Science Lead, Hessa Al Matroushi.
The images were taken by the Hope Probe’s EMUS (Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer) instrument, and show a ghostly glow known as the discrete aurora. Its intricate patterns trace out the regions where Mars’ enigmatic crustal magnetic fields act like a funnel to guide fast electrons from space down into the atmosphere, causing it to shimmer in a manner similar to Earth’s aurora. This influence of localised magnetic fields is a unique feature of the Red Planet. Mars, unlike Earth, does not have a global magnetic field generated by the planet’s core.
The most sensitive ultraviolet instrument yet to orbit Mars, EMUS is able to image these dynamic auroral events globally at high resolution and across a wide range of wavelengths, providing an unprecedented window upon the interaction of the atmosphere with solar particles.
While previous studies had theorised the discrete aurora is tied to Mars’ magnetic fields and existing observations had been consistent with that theory, prior images of this phenomenon at this quality had only been available as artist’s impressions.
One of three instruments on board the Mars Hope Probe, EMUS’ principal science goal is the measurement of oxygen and carbon monoxide in Mars’ thermosphere and the variability of hydrogen and oxygen in the exosphere. Members of the science team who had previously worked on the MAVEN Mission had recognised the potential for the more sensitive EMUS instrument to capture new aspects of Mars’ auroral phenomena, but the results of early observations have exceeded their wildest expectations.
Hope is following its planned 20,000 – 43,000 km elliptical science orbit, with an inclination to Mars of 25 degrees. The probe will complete one orbit of the planet every 55 hours and will capture a full planetary data sample every nine days in a two-year mission to map Mar’s atmospheric dynamics.
EMM and the Hope probe are the result of a knowledge transfer and development effort started in 2006, which has seen Emirati engineers working with partners around the world to develop the UAE’s spacecraft design, engineering and manufacturing capabilities. Hope is a fully autonomous spacecraft, carrying three instruments to measure Mars’ atmosphere. Weighing some 1,350 kg, and approximately the size of a small SUV, the spacecraft was designed and developed by MBRSC engineers with academic partners, including LASP at the University of Colorado, Boulder; Arizona State University and the University of California, Berkeley.
The Emirates Mars Mission will study the Martian atmosphere, the relationship between the upper layer and lower regions and, for the first time, the international science community will have full access to a holistic view of the Martian atmosphere at different times of the day, through different seasons. In addition, it will now aim to make significant contributions to our understanding of Mars’ aurorae.
The Hope Probe’s historic journey to Mars coincides with a year of celebrations to mark the UAE’s Golden Jubilee.