A Mysterious Green Glow of Oxygen Has Been Detected in Mars' Atmosphere
No, aliens aren't to blame.
Space exploration has always been a fascinating subject both for astrophysicists and ordinary people. On Saturday, June 13, SpaceX successfully launched American astronauts into space in a historic test flight. Just this past week, a new study from scientists at the University of Nottingham estimated that there are at least 36 alien civilizations in the galaxy. Now, The European Space Agency is reporting that a mysterious emerald glow was detected around Mars. Using their Trace Gas Orbiter, scientists identified a green glow that resembles the same night glow that can be seen around Earth's atmosphere from space. This makes Mars the only planet other than Earth to host auroras.
The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter established an orbit around Mars in October 2016. "One of the brightest emissions seen on Earth stems from night glow. More specifically, from oxygen atoms emitting a particular wavelength of light that has never been seen around another planet," study lead author Jean-Claude Gérard, of the Université de Liège in Belgium, said in a statement.
The green emission is a characteristic of oxygen—but how exactly does it form? Scientists say that the glow is a result of interactions between the light from the sun and oxygen molecules in Mars' atmosphere. And while Earth emits a similar green glow, even astronauts have a difficult time seeing the faint emerald hue from outer space. "The observations at Mars agree with previous theoretical models, but not with the actual glowing we've spotted around Earth, where the visible emission is far weaker," Gérard said. "This suggests we have more to learn about how oxygen atoms behave, which is hugely important for our understanding of atomic and quantum physics."
Based on their findings, astronauts predict that the emissions have existed around Mars for more than 40 years. However, just because there is evidence of oxygen on Mars does not mean that humans would be able to breathe or survive on the planet.