Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck
When astronauts first arrive on Mars, they may be greeted by a stunning blue-colored aurora in the southern hemisphere of the Red Planet, researchers from Aalto University in Finland and an international team of colleagues report in a recently-published study.
According to Space.com, while previous research confirmed there were southern auroras on Mars, the new Planetary and Space Science paper marks the first time a team of scientists has predicted that the phenomenon will actually be visible to the human eye.
“The study indicates that the strongest color in the Martian aurorae is deep blue,” author Cyril Simon Wedlund Aalto University’s Department of Radio Science and Engineering explained in a statement. “An astronaut looking up while walking on the red Martian soil would be able, after intense solar eruptions, to see the phenomena with the naked eye.”
The findings indicate that the upper atmosphere of the Red Planet may be closer in nature to that of Earth’s than previously believed. Even though Mars no longer has a global magnetic field, the planet still sporadically has smaller fields appear, particularly in the southern hemisphere, which can excite atmospheric atoms and molecules and cause them to produce light emission.
Creating simulated auroral displays
The presence of aurorae on Mars were originally confirmed by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft and NASA’s MAVEN mission, according to Space.com. However, neither of those missions could tell for sure whether or not the phenomenon would be visible to humans.
In their new study, Wedlund’s team used a sphere known as a Planeterella, in which magnetic fields and charged particles produced simulated auroral displays. In their experiment, they filled the Planeterella with carbon dioxide (the dominant component of the atmosphere on Mars) and watched as an electrical discharge was created in the simulated upper atmosphere.
This discharge created a blue glow following the magnetic field structure, Space.com said, and the study shows that aurorae on Mars occur in the visible range. Furthermore, the findings may help scientists better understand the physics, mass, and evolution of the Martian atmosphere.
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