New insights into turbulent Martian atmosphere

DG Staff

DUBAI 10 October 2021: The Emirates Mars Mission, the first interplanetary exploration undertaken by an Arab nation, Saturday released new images of Mars that challenge existing conception of how the planet’s atmospheric gases behave and interact. Taken by the Mars Hope probe’s EMUS instrument, the observations show dramatic variations in the concentrations of both atomic oxygen and carbon monoxide in the dayside atmosphere of Mars.

“These observations contain features that were completely unexpected and we believe will have far-reaching consequences for our existing models of the Martian atmosphere and our understanding of its behaviour. We simply hadn’t anticipated structures of this magnitude and complexity,” said Emirates Mars Mission Science Lead, Hessa Al Matroushi.

The new findings are included in the first data release from the Mission, which was opened up to public access on 1st October 2021, and follow on from the Mission’s revolutionary observations of the Martian discrete aurora. Both new observations come early in the Mission’s lifetime and have significant implications for understanding of the Martian atmosphere and its interaction with solar radiation.

The observations confound scientist’s preconceptions of the distribution of ultraviolet light emitted from the upper atmosphere of Mars, showing vast structures at a range of wavelengths suggesting a higher than expected variation in the density of atomic oxygen and pointing to unusual levels of atmospheric turbulence. Taken at a time when Mars was near the aphelion of its orbit (furthest from the Sun) and when solar activity was low, the images are at their most striking and remarkable in emissions from oxygen at the 130.4 nm wavelength.

“It was so unexpected that we initially thought the structures might be artefacts in the image, caused by contaminating light from longer wavelengths that the instrument is designed to reject,” said EMM Deputy Science Lead Justin Deighan. “We had expected to observe a relatively uniform emission from oxygen at 130.4 nm across the planet and yet here we are, faced with unpredicted variations of 50% or more in the brightness. The science team is currently refining their models to come up with a robust interpretation of these findings. It’s very exciting to be challenged this way; this is exactly the type of science the mission was designed to pursue.”

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