Martian Green Nightglow Seen for the First Time

Artist's impression of the ExoMars Trace Gas orbiter spotting daylight green oxygen at Mars. Credit: ESA

On Earth, there is a phenomenon known as nightglow, where the atmosphere experiences faint light emissions that prevent the night sky from becoming completely dark. This is caused by various processes in the upper atmosphere, like the recombination of atoms, cosmic rays striking the atmosphere, or oxygen and nitrogen interacting with hydroxyl a few hundred kilometers from the surface. Thanks to data obtained by the ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), the same phenomenon has been observed in the Martian atmosphere for the first time.

While scientists have long suspected that Mars also experiences this atmospheric phenomenon, this is the first time that effectively proves it. The revelation was made by an international team of scientists based on their analysis of data from the TGO’s Nadir and Occultation for MArs Discovery (NOMAD) spectrometer. When astronauts and rovers explore Mars’ polar regions in the near future, they will see a green glow whenever they look up at the sky and could even use the glow to navigate and find their way in the dark of night.

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Life Probably Didn't Have a Hand in Creating Organic Deposits on the Surface of Mars

ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter analyses the martian atmosphere. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

At this very moment, eleven robotic missions are exploring Mars, a combination of orbiters, landers, rovers, and one aerial vehicle (the Ingenuity helicopter). Like their predecessors, these missions are studying Mars’ atmosphere, surface, and subsurface to learn more about its past and evolution, including how it went from a once warmer and wetter environment to the freezing, dusty, and extremely dry planet we see today. In addition, these missions are looking for evidence of past life on Mars and perhaps learning if and where it might still exist today.

One particularly interesting issue is how the atmosphere of Mars – primarily composed of carbon dioxide (CO2) – is relatively enriched with Carbon-13 (13C), aka. “heavy carbon.” For years, scientists have speculated that the ratio of this isotope to “light carbon” (12C) might be responsible for organics found on the surface (a sign of biological processes!). But after analyzing data from the ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) mission, an international team led by The Open University determined that these organics may be “abiotic” in origin (i.e., not biological).

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ExoMars is Suspended. ESA is Looking for new Solutions to Replace Russian Components

Coordination between countries in space exploration is widespread.  However, sometimes that coordination falls apart.  In most cases, that failure is due to budgetary constraints. But in more recent times, it is due to geopolitical ones.  Specifically, western space agencies have begun to cut ties with Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, on every program excluding the International Space Station, which is still operating normally.  One of those project casualties is the timeline of the oft-delayed Exomars rover, Rosalind Franklin.  

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There are Places Where Salty Water Could Emerge Onto the Surface of Mars

A computer generated view of Mars, with an area including Gale Crater beginning to catch morning light. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The existence of water on Mars is a contentious subject. We know there used to be water on the surface of the planet, though it’s long gone now. We know there’s frozen water underground in the world, and we know there’s water vapour in the air. But life needs liquid water.

Could there be liquid water on Mars?

A new study shows how salty water could emerge from the atmosphere onto Mars’ surface under the right conditions.

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Rings Inside a Martian Crater Reveal its Ancient History

An unusual crater on Mars, as seen by the CaSSIS camera onboard the ESA/Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) on 13 June 2021 in the vast northern plains of Acidalia Planitia. Credit: ,ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS,

Is this a closeup look at a tree stump, or an orbital view of an impact crater? At first glance, it might be hard to tell. But this image of a crater on Mars provides planetary scientists almost the same kind of climate history data about the Red Planet as tree rings provide to climate scientists here on Earth.

This picture was taken by the Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging (CaSSIS) camera onboard the ESA/Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which arrived at Mars in 2016 and began its full science mission in 2018.

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The Bottom of Valles Marineris Seems to Have Water Mixed in With the Regolith

Mosaic of the Valles Marineris hemisphere of Mars, similar to what one would see from orbital distance of 2500 km. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

For generations, humans have dreamed of the day when we might set foot on Mars. For many others, the dream has been one of settling on Mars and creating an outpost of human civilization there. Today, it looks as though both of these dreams are getting closer to becoming a reality, as space agencies and the commercial space industry are deep into planning regular crewed missions to the Red Planet. And when planning for long-duration missions to destinations in deep space, a vital aspect is assessing the local environment.

For example, missions to Mars will need to be as self-sufficient as possible, which means using local resources to meet the needs of the mission and astronauts – a process known as in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). According to new data from the ESA-Roscomos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), the massive equatorial canyon known as Valles Marineris (Valley of Mars) contains vast deposits of ice that have remained hidden to scientists until now.

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ExoMars Will be Drilling 1.7 Meters to Pull its Samples From Below the Surface of Mars

In about a year (Sept. 20th, 2022), the Rosalind Franklin rover will depart for Mars. As the latest mission in the ESA’s and Roscosmos’ ExoMars program, Rosalind Franklin will join the small army of orbiters, landers, and rovers that are working to characterize the Martian atmosphere and environment. A key aspect of the rover’s mission will involve drilling into the Martian soil and rock and obtaining samples from deep beneath the surface.

To prepare for drilling operations on Mars, the ESA, Italian space agency (ASI), and their commercial partners have been conducting tests with a replica – aka. the Ground Test Model (GTM). Recently, the test model completed its first round of sample collection, known as the Mars Terrain Simulation (MTS). The rover drilled into hard stone and extracted samples from 1.7 meters (5.5 feet) beneath the surface in a record-breaking feat.

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Perseverance Seen From Space by ESA’s ExoMars Orbiter

Credit: ESA

A little over a week ago (February 18th, 2021), NASA’s Perseverance rover landed in the Jezero crater on the surface of Mars. In what was truly a media circus, people from all over the world tuned to watch the live coverage of the rover landing. When Perseverance touched down, it wasn’t just the mission controllers at NASA who triumphantly jumped to their feet to cheer and applaud.

In the days that followed, the world was treated to all kinds of media that showed the surface of Mars and the descent. The most recent comes from the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which is part of the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars program. From its vantage point, high above the Martian skies, the TGO caught sight of Perseverance in the Jezero crater and acquired images that show the rover and other elements of its landing vehicle.

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ExoMars Sees the Martian Atmosphere Glowing Green

Credit: ESA

In the course of studying Mars, scientists have come to identify some key similarities to Earth’s own. One notable example is the way our atmospheres interact with sunlight to produce dazzling displays of energy. On Earth, these include not just the aurorae near the polar regions (Aurora Borealis and Australis), but the constant green glow that is the result of oxygen molecules interacting with sunlight (aka. “airglow”).

On Earth, airglow can be seen “edge-on” from space, as exemplified by the many spectacular images that are taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). This phenomenon was recently observed around Mars for the first time by the ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which arrived at Mars in 2016 a part of the ExoMars program. Like aurorae, this observation is yet another example of how Mars is “Earth’s Twin.”

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This is the Spot Where ESA’s Schiaparelli Crashed Into Mars

Credit: HiRISE/LPL/University of Arizona

On October 19th, 2016, the NASA/ESA ExoMars mission arrived at the Red Planet to begin its study of the surface and atmosphere. While the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) successfully established orbit around Mars, the Schiaparelli Lander crashed on its way to the surface. At the time, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) acquired images of the crash site using its High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera.

In March and December of 2019, the HiRISE camera captured images of this region once again to see what the crash site looked like roughly three years later. The two images show the impact crater that resulted from the crash, which was partially-obscured by dust clouds created by the recent planet-wide dust storm. This storm lasted throughout the summer of 2019 and coincided with Spring in Mars’ northern hemisphere.

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