Looking at Mars at Night in UV

This obviously false color animation of Mars shows how its atmosphere glows and pulsates in ultraviolet light every night. It was assembled from months of data taken by the MAVEN spacecraft orbiting Mars. The nightglows occur three times during each rotation of the planet about 70 km above the surface. All three occur at sunset (which is on the left limb of the planet in this view). The pulsations are believed to be caused by downward winds creating nitric oxide in the atmosphere which glows in the UV spectrum. The fact that the three glows occur in data averaged over several months indicates that they are a nightly occurrence.

Video Credit: NASA

Phobos in UV

phobos-in-uvThis is the Martian moon Phobos as observed by the MAVEN spacecraft’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph. Orange shows mid-ultraviolet (MUV) sunlight reflected from the surface of Phobos. Blue shows far ultraviolet light which is scattered off of hydrogen gas in the extended upper atmosphere of Mars. Phobos blocks the background far UV light, eclipsing the ultraviolet sky. Comparing MAVEN’s images and spectra of the surface of Phobos to similar data from asteroids and meteorites may provide clues to the moon’s origin–whether it is a captured asteroid or was formed in orbit around Mars. The MAVEN data will also help scientists look for organic molecules on the surface of Phobos. Evidence for such molecules has been reported by previous measurements from the ultraviolet spectrograph on the Mars Express spacecraft.

Image Credits: CU/LASP and NASA

Clouds on Mars

Images from MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph were used to make this movie of rapid cloud formation on Mars. The ultraviolet light reflected from the planet has been rendered in false color to show what might be seen with ultraviolet-sensitive eyes. The movie uses four MAVEN images to show about 7 hours of Mars rotation, and it interleaves simulated views that could have been seen between the four images. The length of the Martian day is similar to Earth’s, so the movie shows just over a quarter day. The left part of the planet is in morning and the right side in afternoon. Mars’ prominent volcanoes, topped with white clouds, can be seen moving across the disk.  Olympus Mons, the tallest in the Solar System, appears as a prominent dark region near the top with a small white cloud at the summit that grows during the day. Olympus Mons appears dark because the volcano rises up above much of the hazy atmosphere. Three more volcanoes appear in a diagonal row with their cloud cover merging to span a thousand miles by the end of the “day.”

Video Credit: NASA

A Near Miss at Mars

Near MissThis graphic shows the predicted orbit of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring as it swings around the inner Solar System in 2014. On 19 October, the comet will pass very close to Mars. Its nucleus will miss Mars by about 132,000 km. As it flies by it, will be shedding material moving at over 50 km/s, relative to Mars and Mars-orbiting spacecraft. Even a tiny particle only 0.5 mm across moving at that speed could cause significant damage to a spacecraft.

NASA currently operates two Mars orbiters, and a third on its way, arriving in Martian orbit a month before the comet flyby. Teams operating those orbiters plan to adjust their orbits so that the spacecraft will be on the opposite side of the Mars when the comet is most likely to pass by.

Image Credit: NASA