Five years after NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) spacecraft entered orbit, the data finally allowed scientists to create the first panoramic map of the Martian atmospheric current in history, according to a network of physicists. The results advance the understanding of the Red Planet and usher in a new era in the study of the Martian atmosphere. The paper was published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
On Earth, the brilliant aurora can be seen in the North and South Poles, thanks to the magnetic field generated by the rotation of the molten iron-nickel core inside the Earth. The Red Planet also has a magnetic field, but it is very different from the way the Earth’s magnetic field is formed – Mars itself does not produce a magnetic field, but the current generated by the solar wind in the Martian ionosphere causes the magnetic field to build up, strengthen, and form what it calls the “inductive magnetosphere” on Mars.
The solar wind consists mainly of charged electrons and protons and continues to blow from the sun, which flows and interacts with objects in the solar system. When charged particles of the solar wind hit the “inductive magnetosphere” near Mars, the ions carrying different electrical sons in the solar wind are separated, creating an electric current that surrounds Mars. At the same time, solar X-rays and ultraviolet rays constantly ionize some of the upper atmospheres on Mars, transforming them into a combination of conductive electrons and charged ions.
The latest finding comes from NASA’s 2013 LAUNCH of the MAVEN spacecraft, which has seen localized signs of these current layers on previous missions, but this is the first time that a panorama has been drawn from the data generated, including the process by which currents flow from the solar wind to the upper atmosphere.
The researchers say it is difficult to detect these currents directly in space, and using MAVEN’s sensitive magnetometer, scientists have detected and mapped the three-dimensional structure of the magnetic field in the solar wind around Mars, which is distorted by current, and calculated the current distribution based on distortions in the magnetic field structure.
Robin Ramstad, an experimental physicist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, points out that the current transmits the energy of the solar wind through magnetic and electric fields to charged particles in the Martian atmosphere, accelerating the flow of the Martian atmosphere into space, which has been spreading for billions of years, and that’s what caused the loss has transformed Mars from a life-supporting world into an uninhabitable “desert” today. Now, a team of scientists is working to determine the exact energy available in the solar wind to better understand the power of atmospheric escape.