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Researchers discover green glow around Mars

The nightside green airglow layer surrounding the Earth near 90 km observed from the International Space Station

Researchers have discovered a green glow around Mars, reported in Nature Astronomy this week (15 June 2020).

Dr Manish Patel, OU Senior Lecturer in Planetary Sciences, and Dr Jon Mason, Senior Spaceflight Project Officer at the OU, are co-authors on a paper detailing the research findings and co-lead the team responsible for the instrument that made the discovery.

The OU researchers are part of an international team, which has identified a never-before-seen, green glow surrounding Mars with the same characteristics as the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights.

Using the NOMAD-UVIS instrument onboard the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), a joint space mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Roscosmos, scientists were able to detect an atmospheric green glow of oxygen surrounding the red planet.

This is the first time that scientists have been able to measure both lines using the same instrument at the same time thus removing any calibration errors and settling once and for all the debate between theory and observation.

Dr Manish Patel, Co-principal Investigator of the NOMAD-UVIS and Senior Lecturer at The Open University, said:

“The UVIS channel of NOMAD continues to return excellent science – we didn’t design the instrument to make these measurements and it’s a fantastic example of the unforeseen additional science you can get from this kind of mission. As a physicist, it is great to see UVIS resolving a long-standing debate between quantum mechanical calculations and remote observations.”

The NOMAD experiment is led by the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (IASB-BIRA) and co-led by The Open University (UK), Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia (IAA-CSIC) in Spain and the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF-IAPS) in Italy. UK involvement in the mission has been funded by the UK Space Agency.

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