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Mars Aurora: A Comparison of MAVEN/IUVS and EMM/EMUS Observations

Presentation #307.03 in the session Characterizing the Martian Atmosphere, All the Way Up (Oral Presentation)

Published onOct 23, 2023
Mars Aurora: A Comparison of MAVEN/IUVS and EMM/EMUS Observations

Mars’ lack of a global magnetic field led to initial expectations of minimal auroral activity. Mars Express’s SPICAM instrument nonetheless discovered an unusual form of aurora in 2005. The ultraviolet emissions were confined near Mars’ strong crustal field region, showing that even weak magnetic fields can be responsible for aurora. These discrete aurora emissions were identified in 19 observations over SPICAM’s decade of observations.

The MAVEN spacecraft arrived at Mars in 2014 carrying the Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS). Thanks to its high sensitivity and observing cadence, IUVS increased detections of discrete aurora twenty-fold. IUVS also discovered two new widespread forms of aurora. Diffuse aurora is a planet-engulfing phenomenon, caused by solar energetic protons and electrons directly impacting the entire unshielded planet. Proton aurora is caused by solar wind protons charge-exchanging into the atmosphere and causing Lyman alpha emission across the dayside. IUVS studies the aurora at mid- and far-UV wavelengths in both limb scans and nadir imaging.

The Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) arrived in 2021 carrying the Emirates Mission UltraViolet Spectrometer (EMUS). EMUS quickly added to the menagerie of auroral phenomena thanks to its high far-UV sensitivity. Discrete aurora emissions were seen in a substantial fraction of nightside observations, and appear to take on new forms not seen by IUVS (sinuous, “non-crustal field”, among others). Furthermore, EMUS detected a spatially-variable form of proton aurora called patchy proton aurora. Together these suggest more diverse physical processes are at work. EMUS studies the aurora through nadir imaging at far- and extreme-UV wavelengths.

The net result of the tremendous influx of new observations is a lag in cataloguing and cross-comparing the types of observations made with different instruments at different wavelength ranges in different observing modes. This presentation seeks to give that broader context, highlighting:

  • what phenomena IUVS and EMUS observe, depending on their distinct instrumental capabilities

  • whether they’re actually seeing the same phenomena or different ones

  • how one type of observation can complement the other

  • where one’s capabilities are unique

  • what are the best directions for collaboration

  • how in situ measurements of particles and fields can contribute to the next stage of understanding particle precipitation

A more coherent observational perspective, as outlined above, may grant a framework for developing a deeper physical understanding of Mars’ unexpected diverse auroral processes.

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