NASA's MAVEN probe captures stunning ultraviolet images of Mars

MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph instrument obtained the global views of Mars in 2022 and 2023 when the planet was approaching the opposite ends of its elliptical orbit. 
Mrigakshi Dixit
The two ultraviolet views of the Red Planet.
The two ultraviolet views of the Red Planet.

NASA/LASP/CU Boulder 

NASA has released two ultraviolet photos of Mars taken by the MAVEN probe. 

MAVEN, which stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, was launched more than a decade ago — on November 18, 2013. 

As per the NASA release, the two images were captured by the orbiting spacecraft from different points along the planet's orbit. These global views of Mars were taken in 2022 and 2023 when the planet was approaching the opposite ends of its elliptical orbit. 

What do the images depict?

The first image was snapped during summer on Mars' southern hemisphere in July 2022.

“Argyre Basin, one of Mars’ deepest craters, appears at the bottom left filled with atmospheric haze (depicted here as pale pink). The deep canyons of Valles Marineris appear at top left filled with clouds (colored tan in this image),” described the NASA statement. 

The notable image features the southern polar ice cap at the top, and the bottom in white depicts a shrinking ice cap due to the summer warmth. 

The second image was taken in the northern hemisphere in January 2023, when Mars had reached the furthest point in its orbit from the Sun. It is seen enveloped with white hues, which represent the abundance of clouds that occur in the north-polar area as a result of changing seasons. 

The deep canyons of Valles Marineris can be seen in greenish tan at the lower left of this image, along with various crater structures. 

“Ozone, which appears magenta in this UV view, has built up during the northern winter’s chilly polar nights. It is then destroyed in northern spring by chemical reactions with water vapor, which is restricted to low altitudes of the atmosphere at this time of year,” added NASA. 

Images were taken by the IUVS instrument

MAVEN's Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument captured remarkable ultraviolet views. According to NASA, the instrument has been designed to measure ultraviolet wavelengths ranging from 110 to 340 nanometers, which fall outside of the visible range. 

The ultraviolet wavelengths can give insight into the Martian atmosphere as well as offers a better understanding of the various surface features.

The newly released photos have been improved to better understand Martian characteristics. The images were created by varying the brightness levels of three UV wavelength ranges, represented as red, green, and blue.

The atmospheric ozone is portrayed in purple, while the clouds and hazes are depicted in white or blue. The Martian surface, on the other hand, appears in tan or green hues. 

The MAVEN probe entered the Martian orbit in September 2014. It was launched with the aim to collecting data and observe Mars' upper atmosphere, including its ionosphere, as well as interactions with the Sun and solar wind. Images and data on these aspects may help scientists unravel the complexity of how Mars lost its atmosphere billions of years ago.

Moreover, the spacecraft's instruments can collect scientific data on various parameters, including the atmosphere, temperature, and liquid water. In September 2024, the MAVEN team will commemorate the spacecraft's 10th year on Mars.

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