If the phenomenon of airglow, that nighttime glow that sometimes lights up the sky, is well known on Earth, this is the first time that it has also been observed on Mars, in a wavelength range that makes it visible to potential researchers the Red Planet would have made it.
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This is not the first time strange glows have been observed in the Martian sky. Lights that are in the ultraviolet range and unfortunately would not be perceptible to the human eye. But not this time! The latest observation from scientists at the University of Liège shows that the light was actually emitted in the visible range.
A different phenomenon than the northern lights
The Uvis Nomad instrument, normally aboard the Trace Gas Orbiter satellite and normally dedicated to mapping the ozone layer around the planet, accidentally spotted strange glows on the Martian night. These luminaries, observed between 40 and 70 kilometers in altitude, would be produced by the recombination of oxygen-oxygen atoms generated in the hot atmosphere of Mars’ summer and transported by the winds towards the polar regions of the opposite hemisphere during the winter winter. In this region, the oxygen atoms then come into contact with CO2 molecules, stimulated by the ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun. This chemical interaction creates O2 molecules. A molecular recombination that has the peculiarity of emitting light in the visible spectral range. This is a chemiluminescence-chemiluminescence phenomenon and is therefore different from that which causes the polar auroras.
A phenomenon that allows us to better understand the atmospheric dynamics of Mars
This phenomenon is well known on Earth (airglow) and has also been observed on VenusVenus. However, this is the first time it has been observed on Mars.
Researchers have already identified the presence of other light emissions in the ultraviolet range. These would be associated with the recombination of oxygen and nitrogen atoms to form nitric oxide (NO). Studying these two phenomena could therefore lead to a better understanding of the dynamics of the upper atmosphere and its fluctuations during the Martian year. These results were published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
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