Shortly before the mid-September of 2017, the Sun surprised the scientists monitoring the activities on Mars by covering the entire red planet with an ultraviolet Aurora. This incident was caused on the 12th and 13th of September, as some event on the Sun’s surface caused a “coronal mass ejection” which sent a massive amount of charged solar particles hurling into the space in the direction of Mars. These solar charges, on coming in contact with the Martian atmosphere projected a global Aurora which engulfed the entire planet and “lit up Mars like a light bulb” as told by Sonal Jain who is a part of the MAVEN team.
The Aurora sparked by the solar charges was about 25 times brighter than any other, previously observed by the MAVEN (NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission) on the surface of Mars. The MAVEN which has been observing and studying the Martian atmosphere’s interaction with the solar winds since 2014 reported that the solar event had produced a radiation more than the double of any radiation previously seen by Curiosity rover’s Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD), since its landing in 2012. The high levels of radiation lasted for about two days.
The unexpected blast of strong solar winds from the Sun was quite a surprise as this was supposed to be a quiet period for the Sun’s 11-year cycle of sunspots and storm activities. Instead, the high energy particles being thrown out of the Sun hit the planetary magnetic field and caused some chemical reaction to project the Martian global light show which was seen from the Earth, located on its opposite side of the Sun. The aurora on Mars had enveloped the entire planet as there is no powerful magnetic field like the Earth to concentrate the Aurora only in the polar region.
There is a possibility that the upper atmosphere of Mars can absorb the highly charged particles causing its temperature to rise and to swell up. Considering Mars as our future residential planet, these activities are tremendously important to be studied on. If such an incident were to happen on Earth, no physical harm would descend upon us as a result of Earth’s thick atmosphere, but it may wipe out our entire communication system including the satellites orbiting in space. Though we are well protected by the Earth’s magnetic field, it is crucial to study upon these space weather events. In fact, it is believed by the scientists that due to these kinds of freakishly big solar events, Mars has been stripped off of the Earth-like atmosphere present billions of years ago. There is still a minute probability of Earth facing the same situations.
Though the auroras are great to watch from a distance, they sure are not good to deal with during such an event, especially if you’re outdoors. As indicated from the radiation levels, being outdoors on Mars in case of such an event of solar storm is identical to a space walk outside the International Space Station. It is thus crucial to monitor the space weather in order to protect our astronauts on Mars in the near future.
Article by Sushmoy.