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UAE Mars mission discovers new aurora on red planet, scientists share excitement

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The United Arab Emirates’ Mars mission (EMM) has identified a mysterious-looking aurora in the planet’s atmosphere that has opened up various avenues to further explore the newly found phenomena, the Emirates news agency WAM reported on Wednesday.

Experts are dubbing the occurrence “sinuous discrete aurora” and described it as “a huge worm-like aurora” that extends halfway around the planet, according to WAM.

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It’s reportedly carried around the planet by a solar wind combined with the magnetism in the Martian crust, and it extends from the dayside and into night.

Aurora light displays can be seen on earth’s sky in high-altitude regions, and are a result of an interaction with charged particles from the sun with atoms in the upper atmosphere. These are commonly found on the north and south poles of Earth.

While auroras look similar on Mars, the cause of the phenomenon is different from that of the Earth.

“When we first imaged Mars’ discrete aurora shortly after the Hope probe arrived at Mars in 2021, we knew we had unveiled a new potential to make observations never before possible on this scale, and we took the decision to increase our focus on these auroras,” Emirates Mars Mission Science Lead, Hessa al-Matroushi said, according to WAM.

“We can obtain nearly whole-disk, synoptic snapshots of the atmosphere to investigate atmospheric phenomena and interactions. It means we are seeing discrete auroral effects on a massive scale and in ways we never anticipated.”

The discovery has piqued the interest of the science community. Dr. Rob Lillis, EMUS team member at the University of California, Berkeley was quoted by WAM as saying that it has left scientists “scratching their heads,” and called it a “shocking” discovery.

EMM project director Omran Sharaf said that the discovery “opened up whole new avenues of investigation into these transient and dynamic phenomena. Novel science was a core mission objective and this is certainly novel.”

The Hope probe arrived at the red planet coinciding with the UAE’s Golden Jubilee in 2021. All images and data captured by the probe have been made available free of charge online.

Space technology is a key part of the Gulf state’s plans to reduce its dependence on oil. The Emirates Mars Mission is the first interplanetary exploration undertaken by an Arab nation.

The country entered the space race last year when it launched the first Arab mission to Mars. It established a space agency in 2014 and sent its first astronaut to the International Space Station five years later.

Earlier in February, the UAE and Bahrain co-launched a terrestrial gamma-ray flashes monitoring nano-satellite from the international space station.

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