NASA says an unexpected blast of solar energy hit Mars last month and it created an aurora on the Red Planet that caused it to light up with ultra-violet light.
Sonal Jain of the University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics says the September 11 storm lit up Mars like a light bulb.
Coronal mass ejections from the sun can cause dramatic auroras on Earth, and powerful flares can disrupt communications. When a solar flare hits Earth, it often creates an aurora in the northern or southern poles. Aurora’s in the Northern Hemisphere are commonly referred to as the Northern Lights.
“An aurora on Mars can envelop the entire planet because Mars has no strong magnetic field like Earth’s to concentrate the aurora near polar regions,” said Jain. “The energetic particles from the Sun also can be absorbed by the upper atmosphere, increasing its temperature and causing it to swell up.”
Jain who is a member of MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph instrument team says the September flare sparked a global aurora at Mars more than 25 times brighter than any previously seen by the MAVEN orbiter.
“If you were outdoors on a Mars walk and learned that an event like this was imminent, you would definitely want to take shelter”
MAVEN, which stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission has been studying the Martian atmosphere since 2014.
The solar explosion hitting Mars also produced radiation levels higher than anything ever recorded by the Mars Curiosity rover, which has been on mars since 2012.
What if humans had been on Mars?
NASA says highly energetic solar events can significantly increase the radiation that penetrates through the atmosphere to the Mars surface. The increased radiation also interacts with the environment to produce additional, secondary particles, which need to be understood and shielded against to ensure the safety of future human explorers.
“If you were outdoors on a Mars walk and learned that an event like this was imminent, you would definitely want to take shelter, just as you would if you were on a spacewalk outside the International Space Station,” said RAD Principal Investigator Don Hassler of the Southwest Research Institute’s Boulder, Colorado, office.
“To protect our astronauts on Mars in the future, we need to continue to provide this type of space weather monitoring there.”
On September 29, Elon Musk announced that he wants SpaceX to fly people to Mars by 2024.
The recent spike in radiation is something the SpaceX team will need to take into account.