February 29, 2024

NASA observes a unique Martian phenomenon – “hard to believe”

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NASA's MAVEN spacecraft detects unusual changes on Mars as the solar wind suddenly “disappears.” The research is surprising.

SAN FRANCISCO – Not only Earth, but also the rest of the planets in our solar system are affected by the activity of the Sun. They constantly send a stream of charged particles into space, which is called the “solar wind.” Because the solar wind is almost always present, its effects on planets only become visible when it decreases unexpectedly. This is exactly what happened in December 2022, as revealed by a recent study conducted by a NASA research team.

NASA's MAVEN probe, which is orbiting Mars and studying its atmosphere, discovered that the solar wind on the Red Planet suddenly “disappeared,” according to a report. NASA press release. Without the pressure of the solar wind, Mars' atmosphere and magnetosphere expanded by thousands of kilometres.

Suddenly the solar wind on Mars disappears

“When we first saw the data and saw how dramatic the decrease in solar wind was, it was hard to believe,” Jasper Halikas of the University of Iowa, lead author of the study, says in the release. The scientist continues: “We formed a working group to study the event and found that this period is rich in amazing insights.”

Solar winds are usually ever-present, compressing the Martian atmosphere and likely contributing to the Red Planet losing much of its atmosphere and water in the past. However, in December 2022, the solar wind completely disappeared for a while due to a special event. According to NASA, this is what happened: A fast solar wind overtook a slower wind, compressing both winds. This led to a rare void of extremely low solar wind density discovered by MAVEN.

NASA's MAVEN spacecraft orbits Mars and monitors interactions between the probe and the red planet. (Avatar) © imago/StockTrek Images

The solar wind decreases – and the Martian atmosphere expands

The intensity of the solar wind decreased hundreds of times during this phase, and the pressure on the Martian atmosphere decreased accordingly. This allowed it to expand to more than three times its normal size. As a result, other unusual phenomena occurred on Mars: the red planet's ionosphere switched from a magnetized to a non-magnetized state, while the layer between the solar wind and the magnetosphere became unusually electromagnetically quiet, the research team said.

MAVEN's observations are invaluable to science: “We can now really see how Mars reacts when the solar wind is effectively removed,” says Halikas happily. “This is a fascinating study of what Mars would be like if it orbited a less ‘windy’ star.” It was the study In the specialized magazine JGR Space Physics published It was presented at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

NASA mission detects an important event on Mars

“Monitoring extreme conditions is invaluable to science,” said Shannon Curry, MAVEN lead researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. “Maven was designed to observe these types of interactions between the Sun and the Martian atmosphere, and the probe provided exceptional data during this truly anomalous solar event.”

The disappearance of the solar wind of this magnitude is extremely rare and can only occur during periods of increased solar activity. The Sun's activity is currently increasing, and is expected to reach its peak in 2024. One scientist even doubts that the first peak of the solar maximum has already been reached. (unpaid bill)

The editor wrote this article and then used an AI language model to improve at her own discretion. All information has been carefully checked. Find out more about our AI principles here.