Scientists Just Discovered Mars’ Atmosphere Has Been Glowing Green
Scientists have discovered Mars’ atmosphere has been glowing green – and no it’s not because of aliens.
Rumoured to have once been green many, many years ago, the red planet is green once again, but in a different way. While it looks like Mars now has its own version of the Northern Lights, this is a completely different thing to what can be seen on Earth.
The aurora borealis is a by-product of our planet’s magnetic field channelling energised particles, something which Mars doesn’t have. However, Mars does have oxygen in its atmosphere, as Earth does, which has contributed towards this green glow.
The ring of green light currently circling Mars, known as a night glow, is due to oxygen atoms being charged up and broken apart by sunlight. Then, when the atoms relax and come back together, they turn green – not because Mars has made you a ‘close friend’ on Instagram, I’m afraid.
Observed by the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which has been on Mars since 2016 as part of the European-led ExoMars programme, the glow is thought to have existed for around 40 years.
Hoping to find the glow, researchers oriented the TGO’s instruments to get an ‘edge on’ view and scanned the planet at different altitudes twice per orbit between April 24 and December 1, 2019, as CNN reports. The telltale green glow was found in all of the data gathered over these dates.
Speaking about the discovery, Jean-Claude Gérard, lead study author and astronomer and professor at the Université de Liège in Belgium, said:
One of the brightest emissions seen on Earth stems from night glow. More specifically, from oxygen atoms emitting a particular wavelength of light that has never been seen around another planet. However, this emission has been predicted to exist at Mars for around 40 years — and, thanks to [Trace Gas Orbiter], we’ve found it.
Night glow emissions aren’t unique to the Red Planet though, as they’ve previously been seen around Earth by astronauts, and appear as a different glow to that of the Northern and Southern Lights.
While Mars and Earth’s night glows look the same, they are actually believed to be different, with Mars’ glow being much stronger than the visible emission given off from our planet. Earth’s night glow is mainly produced from oxygen, while Mars’ is largely from CO2.
We modelled this emission and found that it’s mostly produced as carbon dioxide, or CO2, [and] is broken up into its constituent parts: carbon monoxide and oxygen. We saw the resulting oxygen atoms glowing in both visible and ultraviolet light.
As well as Mars’ night glow looking pretty spectacular, this discovery is described as ‘critical’ in helping researchers understand auroras.
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