Solar Storm Hits Mars, Causes Planet-Wide Aurora

The auroras on Earth, caused by the interaction of coronal mass ejections from the sun with the planet’s magnetic field, are mostly centered over or near the north and south poles, and people travel to places from where the dazzling display of lights in the sky is visible. But what if an aurora covered the entire planet?

That may not be possible on Earth, given its strong magnetic field that concentrates the aurora near the poles, but that is precisely what happened on Mars in the second week of September. The solar event that caused this global aurora on the red planet occurred Sept. 11 and its effect was observed by a multitude of Mars-observing instruments over the following two days.

One of the missions that observed this unusual and unexpected occurrence was NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN. It has been looking at the Martian atmosphere from its vantage point in orbit around Mars since September 2014, and the global aurora seen Sept. 12-13 was “more than 25 times brighter than any previously seen” by it, according to a NASA statement Friday.

These images show the sudden appearance of a bright aurora on Mars during a solar storm in September 2017. The purple-white color scheme shows the intensity of ultraviolet light seen on Mars’ night side before (left) and during (right) the event. A simulated image of Mars for the same time and orientation has been added, with the dayside crescent visible on the right. The auroral emission appears brightest at the edges of the planet where the line of sight passes along the length of the glowing atmosphere layer. Photo: NASA/Univ. of Colorado

The images were produced by MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph. So, even if you happened to be in the vicinity of Mars, you would not have been able to see the aurora in its glorious intensity because our eyes cannot see in the ultraviolet spectrum of light.

Even the radiation levels produced on the Martian surface as a result of the solar…

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