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Martian aurora, high-altitude dust clouds surprise scientists

MAVEN mission data provide insights, provoke questions about Red Planet

1:00pm, March 19, 2015
Maven probe

BRING TO LIGHT  An ultraviolet camera on the MAVEN probe, illustrated, captures the eerie glow from a Martian aurora, similar to the northern lights on Earth.

Martian auroras! Mystery dust clouds! Just a few months into its mission, NASA’s newest Mars orbiter is finding an assortment of oddities in the Martian atmosphere, researchers report March 18 at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.

Shortly after arriving at Mars in September, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, or MAVEN, discovered a wispy layer of dust suspended several hundred kilometers above the Martian surface. And then for five days in December, the spacecraft detected an ultraviolet glow blanketing the northern half of the Red Planet. The light show, similar to the northern lights on Earth, coincided with a fierce solar storm, when the sun flooded the solar system with charged particles.

“Nobody expected to see auroras in the

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