The atmosphere of Mars ‘sparks’


A complex energy network who ‘put to flight’atmosphere of Mars, transforming it into a wasteland: this is what emerges from the data collected by the Maven probe (Mars TOtmosphere and Volatile ISvolutioN) of the Nasa, for over five years in the orbit of the planet. In practice, they move around it electric current systems, which triggered a series of physical processes at the origin of the dispersion of the atmosphere in the space. The phenomenon is at the heart of a study just published on Nature Astronomy (article: “The global current systems of the Martian induced magnetosphere”); the investigation was conducted by a group of US researchers, coordinated by the Space and Atmospheric Physics Laboratory of theUniversity of Colorado-Boulder.

Also there Land presents systems of this kind, connected to the solar wind: one of their striking manifestations is the aurorae of the polar regions, due to the interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field is that flow, consisting of charged particles, which constantly blows from our star, moving at millions of kilometers per hour. The study of what occurs on our planet can only partially help to deepen the electric currents of Mars, due to the differences between the magnetic fields: that of the Earth, in fact, derives from his core and surrounds the entire planet, while that of Mars is induced. The Red planettherefore, it does not generate its own magnetic field, with the exception of some relatively small areas of magnetized crust. The process leading to the formation of a induced magnetic field it is quite complex and is connected to interactions between solar wind and i celestial bodies it runs into: this flow, in fact, is also magnetized and this characteristic allows it to easily creep into the upper part of the atmosphere of non-magnetized planets like Mars. The currents that the solar wind stirs in the ionosphere of the planet they produce an accumulation and a strengthening of magnetism, creating a so-called Induced magnetosphere‘.

Some mechanisms of it are not yet clear, but when particles solar wind impacts you are driven to move separately because of them electric charge. So, the different directions taken by ions and electrons lead to the formation of current that wind from the illuminated part of Mars to the dark one. At the same time, i X-ray del Sole and the ultraviolet radiation constantly ionize the upper part of the atmosphere of the planet, causing one mixture of electrons and charged ions that can lead electricity. So without a global magnetic field, the current mentioned above can form one direct connection with the upper part of the Martian atmosphere and can transform the energy of the solar wind in such a way as to to accelerate the movement of atmospheric particles towards space; these phenomena lead to ‘Escape’ of the atmosphere.

Traces of these processes had also been identified by previous missions, but the sensitivity of the instruments of Maven, in particular of magnetometer, made the difference, by allowing map carefully the entire circuit of currents. Scholars intend to further investigate these mechanisms, especially to quantify theamount of the loss atmosphere.

NASA video illustrating the discovery

Above: the trend of electric currents around Mars (Credits: Nasa / Goddard / Maven / Cu Boulder / Svs / Cindy Starr)

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