Click here for a printer-friendly version of this page.

Mars Express discovers aurorae on Mars


Posted on: Friday June 10, 2005.


Terra Cimmeria is the area in the southern hemisphere of Mars where Mars Express has detected for the first time ever an aurora in the Red Planet. The aurora was detected at 177 degrees east and 52 degrees south. It is linked to anomalies in the crustal magnetic field, and it has a highly concentrated shape, making it unique in the Solar System.

Credits: NASA/ESA
ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft has for the first time ever detected an aurora on Mars. This aurora is of a type never previously observed in the Solar System.

Observations by the SPICAM instrument (SPectroscopy for the Investigations and the Characteristics of the Atmosphere on Mars) taken on 11 August 2004, revealed light emissions now interpreted as an aurora. 

Aurorae are spectacular displays often seen at the highest latitudes on Earth. On our planet, as well as on the giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, they lie at the foot of the planetary magnetic field lines near the Poles, and are produced by charged particles – electrons, protons or ions – precipitating along these lines.

Aurorae have also been observed on the night side of Venus, a planet with no intrinsic (planetary) magnetic field. Unlike Earth and the giant planets, venusian aurorae appear as bright and diffuse patches of varying shape and intensity, sometimes distributed across the full planetary disc. Venusian aurorae are produced by the impact of electrons originating from the solar wind and precipitating in the night-side atmosphere.

Like Venus, Mars is a planet with no intrinsic magnetic field. A few years ago it was suggested that auroral phenomena could exist on Mars too. This hypothesis was reinforced by the recent Mars Global Surveyor discovery of crustal magnetic anomalies, most likely the remnants of an old planetary magnetic field.

SPICAM detected light emissions in the Southern hemisphere on Mars, during night time observations. The total size of the emission region is about 30 kilometres across, possibly about 8 kilometres high. Whilst the detected emission is typical for day-time, it must indicate the excitation of the upper atmosphere by fluxes of charged particles – probably electrons – if observed during night-time.

By analysing the map of crustal magnetic anomalies compiled with Mars Global Surveyor’s data, scientists observed that the region of the emissions corresponds to the area where the strongest magnetic field is localised. This correlation indicates that the origin of the light emission actually is a flux of electrons moving along the crust magnetic lines and exciting the upper atmosphere of Mars.

SPICAM observations provide for the first time a key insight into the role of the martian crustal magnetic field in producing original cusp-like magnetic structures. Such structures concentrate fluxes of electrons into small regions of the martian atmosphere. Eventually, they induce the formation of highly concentrated aurorae whose formation mechanism – a localised emission controlled by anomalies in the crust’s magnetic field – is unique in the Solar System.





News Story Origin and Copyright: ESA
Click here for the original news release.




Click here for a printer-friendly version of this page.

Cool products from our online store:
Miniature DC Motor

Miniature DC Motor

On SALE today:
$2.99 $1.95 /each

Earthquakes Poster

Earthquakes Poster

On SALE today:
$19.95 $12.95 /each

Moon Walker II Robot Kit

Moon Walker II Robot Kit

On SALE today:
$69.95 $54.95 /each

Periodic Table of Elements Poster - Laminated

Periodic Table of Elements Poster - Laminated

On SALE today:
$19.95 $12.95 /each



Search

Loading



Click here to get
a FREE ride with Uber!


Click here to
sign up for Birchbox






Science Quote

'All of us, are truly and literally a little bit of stardust.'

William Fowler
(1911-1995)
Science Sidebar | Science Education Articles
10 Ways to Keep Your Kids Interested In Science

Young children are natural scientists: they ask questions, pick up sticks and bugs outside, and are curious about the world around them. But as they get a bit older, many kids gradually lose their interest in science. They might see it as just another task at school, something that doesn't apply to their lives. Of course nothing could be further from the truth, so here are ten ways you can remind your kids that science is everywhere. Most of these are fun for adults, too! Continue reading ...

Top Selling

Here are our physics & astronomy bestsellers:
Mini Plasma Ball
KonusScience 5 Way Microscope Kit
3D Magnetic Field Tube
Scorpion, Ant, Wasp and Flower Bug
Alnico Bar Magnet - 6 inch Long
Revolving Multi-Color Fiberoptic Light
Weather Station 4M Kit
Solar Radiometer
12 inch Galileo Thermometer
Wood Grain Newtons Cradle

Sponsors

USC University of Southern California Dornsife College Physics and Astronomy Department McMaster University Physics and Astronomy Department