Martian Night Sky Pulsates in UV, Discovers NASA’s Spacecraft MAVEN

NASA’s MAVEN or the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft, recently captured images that show vast swathes of the Martian night sky pulsating in Ultraviolet, or UV, light. Interestingly, it showed us that the atmosphere pulsed three times per night, and only during the Spring and Fall season of the Red Planet.

The pulsations captured by MAVEN on Mars can be seen in the below video.

In the video, three pulses are visible, with the first one being unusually bright, much brighter than the other two. Another point to note is the fact that these pulses seem to appear just after sunset, thus on the left side of the planet. This is called the nightside. The Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph instrument on MARVEN captured this nightglow at an altitude of approximately 70 kilometers.

This phenomenon is similar to the Aurorae seen on Earth. High energy photons from the Sun break down the carbon dioxide and dinitrogen gas found in the atmosphere of Mars into its constituting atoms. Certain atmospheric currents then carry these atoms into the nightside, where they combine to form nitrogen monoxide. It is during the process of this combination in the middle atmosphere that the UV light is released.

What causes the release of UV (Source)

“MAVEN’s images offer our first global insights into atmospheric motions in Mars’ middle atmosphere, a critical region where air currents carry gases between the lowest and highest layers,” said Nick Schneider of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), Boulder, Colorado.

This discovery shows us how the Martian atmosphere works and could help develop further the models that allow us to examine the physical phenomenons that occur on the Red Planet.  It also shows us where improvements can be made in the models, thus helping us further our understanding concerning it.

You can read more about this discovery here: 

Schneider, N. M., Milby, Z., Jain, S. K., González‐Galindo, F., Royer, E., Gérard, J.‐C., et al. (2020). Imaging of Martian circulation patterns and atmospheric tides Through MAVEN/IUVS nightglow observations. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 125, e2019JA027318.

Press Release from NASA

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