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RE: Martian Auroras
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'Northern lights' observed on Mars

A Nasa spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet has detected a mysterious aurora that reaches deep into the Martian atmosphere.
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Martian upper atmosphere
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Title: Rosetta-Alice Observations of Exospheric Hydrogen and Oxygen on Mars
Authors: Paul D. Feldman (1), Andrew J. Steffl (2), Joel Wm. Parker (2), Michael F. A'Hearn (3), Jean-Loup Bertaux (4), S. Alan Stern (2), Harold A. Weaver (5), David C. Slater (2), Maarten Versteeg (2), Henry B. Throop (2), Nathaniel J. Cunningham (6), Lori M. Feaga (3) ((1) JHU, (2) SwRI, (3) UMd, (4) LATMOS, (5) JHU/APL, (6) NWU)

The European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft, en route to a 2014 encounter with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, made a gravity assist swing-by of Mars on 25 February 2007, closest approach being at 01:54UT. The Alice instrument on board Rosetta, a lightweight far-ultraviolet imaging spectrograph optimised for in situ cometary spectroscopy in the 750-2000 A spectral band, was used to study the daytime Mars upper atmosphere including emissions from exospheric hydrogen and oxygen. Offset pointing, obtained five hours before closest approach, enabled us to detect and map the HI Lyman-alpha and Lyman-beta emissions from exospheric hydrogen out beyond 30,000 km from the planet's center. These data are fit with a Chamberlain exospheric model from which we derive the hydrogen density at the 200 km exobase and the H escape flux. The results are comparable to those found from the the Ultraviolet Spectrometer experiment on the Mariner 6 and 7 fly-bys of Mars in 1969. Atomic oxygen emission at 1304 A is detected at altitudes of 400 to 1000 km above the limb during limb scans shortly after closest approach. However, the derived oxygen scale height is not consistent with recent models of oxygen escape based on the production of suprathermal oxygen atoms by the dissociative recombination of O2+.

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RE: Martian Auroras
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Scientists using ESAs Mars Express have produced the first crude map of aurorae on Mars. These displays of ultraviolet light appear to be located close to the residual magnetic fields generated by Marss crustal rocks. They highlight a number of mysteries about the way Mars interacts with electrically charged particles originating from the Sun.
The aurorae on Mars were discovered in 2004 using the SPICAM ultraviolet and infrared atmospheric spectrometer on board Mars Express. They are a powerful tool with which scientists can investigate the composition and structure of the Red Planets atmosphere.

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RE: Martian Ionosphere
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Astronomers have uncovered evidence that solar flares can affect the upper atmosphere of Mars. A team at Boston University said their studies of X-ray bursts from the Sun in April 2001 that reached Mars show the phenomena caused dramatic enhancements to the planet's ionosphere - the region where the Sun's ultraviolet and X-rays are absorbed by atoms and molecules in the atmosphere.

"The science yield from this work will be in the new field of comparative atmospheres. By that I mean studies of the same process in nature - in this case making an ionosphere on two planets simultaneously - offer insights and constraints to models not always possible when studying that process on a single planet. The fifth member of our team, Henry Rishbeth of the University of Southampton in England, provides the expertise in theory and modelling that will be the focus of our follow-up studies." - lead researcher Michael Mendillo, of Boston University's Center for Space Physics.

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Auroras similar to Earth's Northern Lights appear to be common on Mars, according to physicists at the University of California, Berkeley, who have analysed six years' worth of data from the Mars Global Surveyor.

The discovery of hundreds of auroras over the past six years comes as a surprise, since Mars does not have the global magnetic field that on Earth is the source of the aurora borealis and the antipodal aurora australis.
According to the physicists, the auroras on Mars aren't due to a planet-wide magnetic field, but instead are associated with patches of strong magnetic field in the crust, primarily in the Southern Hemisphere. And they probably aren't as colourful either, the researchers say: The energetic electrons that interact with molecules in the atmosphere to produce the glow probably generate only ultraviolet light - not the reds, greens and blues of Earth.


A plot of the 13,000 auroral events detected in the past six years by Mars Global Surveyor shows them clustering around the margins of the regions of strong surface magnetic field, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere. The margins are where the magnetic field lines converge on the surface, funnelling electrons that crash into atmospheric carbon dioxide and generate the ultraviolet flashes. The red X marks the spot where Mars Express first detected an aurora last year.
Credit: David Brain & Jasper Halekas/SSL


"The fact that we see auroras as often as we do is amazing. The discovery of auroras on Mars teaches us something about how and why they happen elsewhere in the solar system, including on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune" - David A. Brain, UC Berkeley physicist, the lead author of a paper on the discovery recently accepted by the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Brain and Jasper S. Halekas, both assistant research physicists at UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory, along with their colleagues from UC Berkeley, the University of Michigan, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre and the University of Toulouse in France, also reported their findings in a poster presented Friday, Dec. 9, at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

Last year, the European spacecraft Mars Express first detected a flash of ultraviolet light on the night side of Mars and an international team of astronomers identified it as an auroral flash in the June 9, 2005, issue of Nature. Upon hearing of the discovery, UC Berkeley researchers turned to data from the Mars Global Surveyor to see if an on-board UC Berkeley instrument package - a magnetometer-electron reflectometer - had detected other evidence of auroras. The spacecraft has been orbiting Mars since September 1997 and since 1999 has been mapping from an altitude of 400 kilometres the Martian surface and Mars' magnetic fields. It sits in a polar orbit that keeps it always at 2 a.m. when on the night side of the planet.
Within an hour of first delving into the data, Brain and Halekas discovered evidence of an auroral flash - a peak in the electron energy spectrum identical to the peaks seen in spectra of Earth's atmosphere during an aurora. Since then, they have reviewed more than 6 million recordings by the electron reflectometer and found amid the data some 13,000 signals with an electron peak indicative of an aurora. According to Brain, this may represent hundreds of nightside auroral events like the flash seen by the Mars Express.

When the two physicists pinpointed the position of each observation, the auroras coincided precisely with the margins of the magnetized areas on the Martian surface. The same team, led by co-authors Mario H. Acuña of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre and Robert Lin, UC Berkeley professor of physics and director of the Space Sciences Laboratory, has extensively mapped these surface magnetic fields using the magnetometer/reflectometer aboard the Mars Global Surveyor. Just as Earth's auroras occur where the magnetic field lines dive into the surface at the north and south poles, Mars' auroras occur at the borders of magnetized areas where the field lines arc vertically into the crust.
Of the 13,000 auroral observations so far, the largest seem to coincide with increased solar wind activity.

"The flash seen by Mars Express seems to be at the bright end of energies that are possible. Just as on Earth, space weather and solar storms tend to make the auroras brighter and stronger" - Jasper S. Halekas.

Earth's auroras are caused when charged particles from the sun slam into the planet's protective magnetic field and, instead of penetrating to the ground, are diverted along field lines to the pole, where they funnel down and collide with atoms in the atmosphere to create an oval of light around each pole. Electrons are a big proportion of the charged particles, and auroral activity is associated with a physical process still not understood that accelerates electrons, producing a telltale peak in the spectrum of electron energies.
The process on Mars is probably similar, in that solar wind particles are funnelled around to the night side of Mars where they interact with crustal field lines. The ultraviolet light is produced when the particles hit carbon dioxide molecules.

"The observations suggest some acceleration process occurs like on Earth. Something has taken the electrons and given them a kick" - Jasper S. Halekas.

What that "something" is remains a mystery, though Lin and his UC Berkeley colleagues lean towards a process called magnetic reconnection, where the magnetic field travelling with the solar wind particles breaks and reconnects with the crustal field. The reconnecting field lines could be what flings the particles to higher energies.
The surface magnetic fields are produced by highly magnetized rock that occurs in patches up to 1,000 kilometres wide and 10 kilometres deep. These patches probably retain magnetism left from when Mars had a global field in a way similar to what occurs when a needle is stroked with a magnet, inducing magnetization that remains even after the magnet is withdrawn. When Mars' global field died out billions of years ago, the solar wind was able to strip the atmosphere away. Only the strong crustal fields are still around to protect portions of the surface.

"We call them mini-magnetospheres, because they are strong enough to stand off the solar wind" - Robert Lin.

The fields extend up to 1,300 kilometres above the surface. Nevertheless, the strongest Martian magnetic field is 50 times weaker than the field at the Earth's surface. It's hard to explain how these fields are able to funnel and accelerate the solar wind efficiently enough to generate an aurora.
Brain, Halekas, Lin and their colleagues hope to mine the Mars Global Surveyor data for more information on the auroras and perhaps join with the European team operating the Mars Express to get complementary data on the flashes that could solve the mystery of their origin.

"Mars Global Surveyor was designed for a lifetime of 685 days, but it has been very valuable for more than six years now, and we are still getting great results" - Robert Lin.

The work was supported by NASA. Co-authors with Brain, Halekas, Lin and Acuña are Laura M. Peticolas, Janet G. Luhmann, David L. Mitchell and Greg T. Delory of UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory; Steve W. Bougher of the University of Michigan; and Henri Rème of the Centre d'Etude Spatiale des Rayonnements in Toulouse.

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RE: The Terra Cimmeria region
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Terra Cimmeria in the southern highlands is the area of the most intense magnetic fields encountered at Mars, in excess of 1500 nT at 80+ km (the dark bit).



The largest crater in the area, Copernicus, is some 300 km in diameter developed in the early Noachian. You can just see from the contours that it has effectively demagnetized the Martian crust.


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The Terra Cimmeria region was where the orbiter spotted the aurora.


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-- Edited by Blobrana at 23:59, 2005-06-09

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RE: Mars Aurora
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The Mars Express orbiter was flying 270 kilometres above the planet when SPICAM's field of view was positioned just above the limb, or edge, of the planet during the Aug. 11, 2004 orbit.
SPICAM, a spectrograph, detected a 30-kilometer wide auroral emission, which comes mainly from excited carbon monoxide molecules, 140 kilometres above the planet.

Mars Express's SPICAM saw the strongest aurora where NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter previously detected the planet's strongest crustal anomalies, at about 180 degrees longitude and 50 degrees southern latitude.

"Earth and all the giant planets have aurorae because they generate a global-scale magnetic field that extends great distances beyond the planet. Their planetary magnetic fields are so extensive that they accelerate and energize the charged particles that excite the auroras. That's not the case on Mars, and that's why this discovery is so interesting.
Mars has no internally generated, planetary-scale magnetic field. It has what are called 'crustal magnetic anomalies' scattered around the Martian surface, remnants of what presumably was Mars' planetary-scale magnetic field that was active when the planet was younger. These crustal pieces are the leftovers of that earlier field.
" - Bill Sandel, a co-investigator on SPICAM, University of Arizona.

To visualize what's going on, think of magnetic lines as wires rising from patches of Mars' surface crust and reaching out beyond the planet. Electrons that have come from the solar wind flow down the "wires" toward Mars' surface, losing energy as they collide with molecules in Mars' thin atmosphere.
The energy released on impact excites the auroral emission.

The aurora is brightest when the particles reach the densest part of the atmosphere, a narrow layer where the charged particles stop because they've lost all their energy in collisions with air molecules.

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Martian Auroras
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Observations made with the European Space Agency's orbiting Mars Express satellite have spotted Martian Auroras.

Charged particles from the Sun interact with the Martian atmosphere and the weak magnetic field, and create glowing rings (aurora) around the poles.

"We have discovered the aurora exactly at the place of maximal magnetic field on the surface of Mars, as recorded previously by NASA Mars Global Surveyor. It is small in horizontal extent, about 30 kilometres." - Jean-Loup Bertaux , CNRS in France.

Auroras on Mars would likely be faint and blue if seen by an astronaut on the surface. The faintness is due to the fact that the planets core has cooled and isn`t generating a strong magnetic field. The planet however still retains magnetic pockets trapped in the rocks of certain areas.

On Earth magnetism is created by the rubbing of a solid inner core against a liquid outer core, which rotate at different rates and act as a strong dynamo.

The findings are detailed in the June 9 issue of the journal Nature.


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