In September, Mars was hit by a strong solar blast, leading to a global aurora which was 25 times brighter than any that had been previously recorded, NASA reported this week.
The aurora was accompanied by strong radiation that would have posed a significant danger to humans exploring the Red Planet. The soalr event started in Sept 11 which resulted to a spike in radiation levels on the Mars surface, more than double the highest reading that the Curiosity rover has sensed since landing on the Red Planet in 2012, according to Friday’s news release by NASA.
The solar storm that took place on September 11 is also known as a coronal mass ejection (CME), that prompted the aurora was so powerful that it was detected on Earth, despite the fact that our planet was on the opposite side of the Sun during the event.
"When a solar storm hits the Martian atmosphere, it can trigger auroras that light up the whole planet in ultraviolet light," says Sonal Jain of the University of Colorado Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, and member of MAVEN's Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph instrument team. "The recent one lit up Mars like a light bulb. An aurora on Mars can envelope the entire planet because Mars has no strong magnetic field like Earth's to concentrate the aurora near polar regions. The energetic particles from the Sun also can be absorbed by the upper atmosphere, increasing its temperature and causing it to swell up."
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However, MAVEN and some other spacecraft watched the fireworks from orbit, NASA's Curiosity rover recorded a more sinister aspect of the solar storm from the Red Planet's surface. As the solar storm struck Mars, the rover's Radiation Assessment Director (RAD) tracked the amount of radiation reaching its surface.
It is also said that had explorers been present on the planet at the time of such a storm, they would have been advised to seek shelter.
"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 space walk outside the International Space Station," says 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."
NASA also believes that according to the observations made in the wake of the September 11 solar storm will result to greater understanding of how Mars' original atmosphere was lost to space, leaving it a dry, barren world. It will also help scientists' to understand the current Martian environment, and the threats regarding future explorers by powerful space weather events.