NASA’s spacecraft observed mysterious “Christmas Lights” on Mars, when it was orbiting the Red Planet.
The Maven Mission had detected strange auroras that reached deep into the Martian atmosphere. The auroras lasted for five days, interestingly leading up to December 25 last year. To make matters even more inexplicable, scientists have also discovered a huge dust-cloud at abnormally high altitude. Such a phenomenon hasn’t been observed earlier and neither does it match predictions.
Preliminary findings by the team were recently presented at 46th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in Texas. The Maven Mission has been NASA’s ambitious attempt designed to help solve a multitude of mysteries surrounding the Red Planet; most notable among them being finding how Mars lost most of its atmosphere and much of its water and other volatiles, shared Maven’s chief scientist Prof Bruce Jakosky from the University of Colorado in Boulder,
“The question is ‘How much water has been lost into the crust, how much has been lost to space? How much CO2 has been lost to the crust, how much to space?”
The “Northern Lights” observed by the Maven Mission spanned majority of the Red Planet’s northern hemisphere. The observers describe the auroras as a, “bright ultraviolet auroral glow”
Auroras or Northern/Southern Lights are a common phenomenon on Earth and are caused by energetic particles such as electrons cascading into the atmosphere and causing the gas to glow.
Interestingly, Martian auroras aren’t new and have been observed on multiple occasions by Europe’s Mars Express spacecraft. However, what’s intriguing and fascinating the scientists is the depth at which these Martian auroras reached into the atmosphere. The scientists noted that these auroras reached much deeper than at Earth or even elsewhere on Mars.
Nonetheless, scientists do have a simple explanation. As solar particles can ‘crash and burn’ into the Earth’s atmosphere, so can they meet with a similar fate on Mars. However, given the fact that Mars is devoid of any dense atmosphere or powerful magnetic field that shields Earths, the high energy particles shot by the sun make much more powerful and direct strikes. With weaker resistance, these particles travel deep into the thin Maritain atmosphere.
Apart from the Martian auroras, the Maven Mission also found dust surrounding Mars at altitudes of between 150km (93 miles) to 300km (190 miles) up, which “was unexpected,” according to Prof Jakosky. Though there are speculations the “dust” was riled up by Mars’ two moons – Phobos and Deimos – scientists are still perplexed about how the dust gained such high altitudes.
If the moon could be a hollow artificial satellite housing aliens, could the extraterrestrial be somehow responsible for the cloud of dust?
[Image Credit | BBC]