Beacon Transcript – MAVEN, one of NASA’s Martian observation missions, has revealed some of the best ultraviolet images of the Red Planet.
MAVEN, or the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, has been for the past few months using its Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) in order to capture and analyze our neighboring planet’s atmosphere.
The MAVEN images were analyzed by the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics’ Nick Schneider. His results will be presented at the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences which is set to take place on October 19. The meeting will take place in Pasadena, California and will also include the European Planetary Science Congress.
The images transmitted by the spacecraft offer new, high-quality photos of the planet’s atmosphere and also reveal its ultraviolet glow, its “nightglow”, a phenomenon that scientists had not predicted but whose existence had been hinted at by traces found during prior space missions.
The nightglow is a natural phenomenon, widespread throughout the planets, during which time the respective space object’s sky begins to softly glow, even in cases when there is no external light.
Mars’ nightside atmosphere properties can be explained by its dayside as the chemical reactions which start and take place during the Martian day cause ultraviolet light emissions during the night.
The “nightglow” images obtained by MAVEN also helped researchers understand Mars’ high altitude wind circulation, as they contribute to the distribution and formation of the nightglow.
As the sun’s ultraviolet light breaks down nitrogen and carbon dioxide molecules, the wind patterns carry the resulting atoms and decrease their altitude. In the lower plain, the nitrogen atoms collide with oxygen ones and lead to the formation of molecules of nitric oxide. The combination of the two atoms also leads to extra energy releases in the form of ultraviolet light.
The high-quality images also gave researchers the chance to better understand Mars’ seasonal cycles as their individual type of winds contribute to the Martian atmosphere, and also the atmosphere’s chemistry.
MAVEN also captured the process of cloud formation which took place over the planet’s four giant volcanoes. As the images capture the cloud development throughout a day, the water vapor inventory and energy balance of the Red Planet will lead to a better understanding of the atmosphere and its behavior.
The multiple views of a Martian day were taken thanks to MAVEN’s elliptical orbit which, according to Justin Deighan, observation leader, allow both for a fast orbit around the planet and also its global view.
Image Source: Wikimedia