See Pics: NASA Maven spacecraft shows unprecedented ultraviolet view of Mars

National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Maven spacecraft has beamed back never before seen ultraviolet view of Mars. Maven spacecraft that is orbiting Mars has sent several breathtaking images in great details including the first images of “nightglow” that can be used to show how winds circulate at high altitudes and images taken in daylight which shows the change in ozone layer over different seasons. The images also reveal how clouds form over volcanoes located in Martian surface.

“MAVEN obtained hundreds of such images in recent months, giving some of the best high-resolution ultraviolet coverage of Mars ever obtained,” said Nick Schneider of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Schneider is presenting these results Oct. 19 at the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Pasadena, California, which is being held jointly with the European Planetary Science Congress.


The nightside images show green colored Mars glowing in the dark due to the presence of nitric acid. Scientists explained that nightglow is not new and it is a common phenomenon among planets where sky glows in the absence of external light. Mars’ nightside atmosphere emits light in the ultraviolet due to chemical reactions that start on Mars’ dayside. Ultraviolet light from the sun breaks down molecules of carbon dioxide and nitrogen, and the resulting atoms are carried around the planet by high-altitude wind patterns that encircle the planet. On the nightside, these winds bring the atoms down to lower altitudes where nitrogen and oxygen atoms collide to form nitric oxide molecules. The recombination releases extra energy, which comes out as ultraviolet light.

Previously, scientists did not predict nightglow on Mars and new images stunned the scientists and revealing key components of Martian atmosphere. Splotches and streaks appearing in these images occur where NO recombination is enhanced by winds. Such concentrations are clear evidence of strong irregularities in Mars’ high altitude winds and circulation patterns. These winds control how Mars’ atmosphere responds to its very strong seasonal cycles. These first images will lead to an improved determination of the circulation patterns that control the behavior of the atmosphere from approximately 37 to 62 miles (about 60 to 100 kilometers) high.


Daylight images of the Mars are also delight to watch as ultraviolet images show the atmosphere and surface near Mar’s south pole in never before seen details. The images were captured during spring season when Ozone was present. Scientists explained that water vapors kill ozone layer and during winter season atmosphere contains water vapors in high amount near polar regions. The images show ozone lasting into spring, indicating that global winds are inhibiting the spread of water vapor from the rest of the planet into winter polar regions. Wave patterns in the images, revealed by UV absorption from ozone concentrations, are critical to understanding the wind patterns, giving scientists an additional means to study the chemistry and global circulation of the atmosphere.

The US spacecraft has also unraveled the mystery of clouds formation over volcanoes. IUVS images of cloud formation are among the best ever taken showing the development of clouds throughout the day. Clouds are a key to understanding a planet’s energy balance and water vapor inventory, so these observations will be valuable in understanding the daily and seasonal behavior of the atmosphere.


“MAVEN’s elliptical orbit is just right,” said Justin Deighan of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who led the observations. “It rises high enough to take a global picture, but still orbits fast enough to get multiple views as Mars rotates over the course of a day.”

The American probe was launched back in 2013 just before the Mangalyaan mission and arrived on Mars on September 22, 2014. Maven was the first ever dedicated mission for upper atmosphere of Red Planet. However, ISRO’s MOM had received more accolades than maven but the US spacecraft has also perform its duty very well.

MAVEN’s principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, Boulder. The university provided two science instruments and leads science operations, as well as education and public outreach, for the mission. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the MAVEN project and provided two science instruments for the mission. The University of California at Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory also provided four science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, provides navigation and Deep Space Network support, as well as the Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.

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