ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has made a groundbreaking discovery on Mars, revealing a mesmerizing green nightglow in the Martian atmosphere. This finding, considered distinct from auroras, sheds light on the atmospheric processes occurring on the red planet and holds significant implications for future missions to Mars.
The green nightglow phenomenon is expected to illuminate the polar regions of Mars, an awe-inspiring spectacle that future astronauts may witness as they explore the planet. Not only could this glow be bright enough for human eyes to perceive, but it could also aid rovers in navigating through the pitch-black Martian nights.
Scientists have determined that the nightglow results from the combination of two oxygen atoms to form an oxygen molecule, approximately 50 kilometers above the Martian surface. During the dayside, sunlight energizes carbon dioxide molecules, allowing oxygen atoms to form. These atoms then migrate to lower altitudes on the night side, regroup, and emit the characteristic green light.
The intensity of this phenomenon can reach comparable levels to moonlit clouds on Earth, further reinforcing the captivating nature of the Martian night sky. The discovery of the green nightglow was made possible through the utilization of the NOMAD instrument on the Trace Gas Orbiter. This instrument spans a spectral range encompassing near ultraviolet to red light.
Apart from its mesmerizing appearance, the nightglow serves as a valuable tracer for atmospheric processes, providing crucial information on the composition and dynamics of Mars’s atmosphere. Gaining a comprehensive understanding of this atmosphere is of utmost importance for upcoming missions to the planet’s surface.
Unlike auroras, the nightglow exhibits a more homogeneous appearance and showcases a varied spectrum of colors, dependent on the atmospheric gases present. On Earth, the green nightglow is barely visible but is best observed from an “edge on” vantage point, making it a rare sight for most.
This recent discovery on Mars echoes the allure of the night sky, which extends beyond our home planet. Astronaut Tim Peake captured a captivating timelapse video of an aurora rise from the International Space Station, reminding us of the mesmerizing cosmic phenomena that await exploration.
Overall, the identification of the green nightglow on Mars represents a significant advancement in our knowledge of the red planet. Its presence not only adds to the allure of future interplanetary missions but also holds potential insights into the intricate workings of Mars’s atmosphere. As we venture further into the mysteries of space, every new discovery brings us closer to unraveling the secrets of the universe.
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