Spacecraft detects strange never-before-seen green glow on Mars
The Exomars orbiter discovered a glow above Mars (ESA).
A revolving spaceship has discovered a strange green glow on Mars that was previously only seen on one planet - Earth.
The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) discovered bright green oxygen in the Martian atmosphere, similar to the Northern Lights on Earth.
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According to a study published in Nature Astronomy, scientists hunted for four decades until the satellite of the European Space Agency (ESA) discovered it.
Glowing oxygen is generated on Earth during the polar aurors when energetic electrons from interplanetary space meet the upper atmosphere and produce a characteristic green glow.
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The atmospheres of Earth and Mars also shine constantly day and night, since sunlight interacts with atoms and molecules in the atmosphere.
Green night light is fairly dim on Earth, but is visible in some of the spectacular images that astronauts captured aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
This green glow has now been discovered for the first time on Mars by the ExoMars TGO, which has been orbiting Mars since October 2016.
Similar air glow seen from the International Space Station (NASA)
Jean-Claude Gerard from the University of Liège in Belgium said: “One of the brightest emissions on earth is night light.
“Especially from oxygen atoms that emit a certain wavelength of light that has never been seen on another planet.
"However, it is predicted that this emission has existed on Mars for around 40 years - and thanks to TGO, we have found it."
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Gerard and colleagues were able to detect this emission using a special observation mode.
One of the orbiter's advanced instruments known as NOMAD (Nadir and Occultation for Mars Discovery), including the Ultraviolet and Visible Spectrometer (UVIS), can observe in various configurations, one of which positions its instruments so that they point directly at the Martians Surface - also known as the "Nadir" channel.
Co-author Ann Carine Vandaele of the Institut Royal d'Aeronomie Spatiale de Belgique said: “Previous observations had not captured a green glow on Mars, so we decided to align the UVIS-Nadir channel so that it points to the edge 'of Mars, similar to the perspective you see in images of the Earth taken by the ISS.
"The emission was strongest at a height of around 80 kilometers and varied depending on the changing distance between Mars and the sun."
This understanding is key to characterizing the planet's atmosphere and related phenomena - like Aurors.
By deciphering the structure and behavior of this glowing green layer of the Martian atmosphere, scientists can gain insight into an altitude range that has remained largely unexplored, and observe how it changes as the activity of the sun changes and Mars moves along its orbit moved around our star.
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