The sun unleashed a massive plasma attack on Mars

The current burst of solar activity has had some notable effects on Earth, but right now it’s Mars that’s experiencing it the most – or would be if it were inhabited. After the discovery of a massive sunspot by the Perseverance spacecraft, a massive coronal mass ejection is expected to hit the red planet directly. The fact that it is farther from the Sun than Earth won’t help much should this happen, as the lack of a protective magnetic field and residual atmosphere makes up for it.

The Martian aurora is not like those On Earth, with no significant magnetic field to direct charged particles from the sun toward the poles. However, several different types of aurorae have been seen, including aurorae that extend halfway across the planet, and whose cause remains unknown. Many of these aurorae would be invisible to our eyes, but were captured by the Imaging Ultraviolet Violet Spectrograph (IUVS) on the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission.

MAVEN and other orbiters will keep a close eye on such events on Sept. 1, when a coronal mass ejection (CME) is expected to leave the sun this past weekend. Of less aesthetic value, but of greater scientific interest, Earth-orbiting spacecraft will look for evidence that the coronal emission stripped a slightly larger portion of the Martian atmosphere, as well as It seems to have happened In association with the past twilight. Events like this likely account for a large part of the reason Mars lost its atmosphere, and with it the conditions that once allowed it to have an ocean.

We can't see the source of the glow because it's hidden behind the curve of the sun, but it's easy to spot when it's rising.

We can’t see the source of Saturday’s glow because it’s hidden behind the curve of the sun, but it’s easy to spot its sunrise.

Image credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA

If you’re looking for Mars in the sky right now, you’ll need a good view to the west shortly after sunset. It comes close to being directly on the opposite side of the Sun from us, which means that the side it faces from the Sun is almost exactly the opposite of what we see.

Last week, NASA used this geometry to point the Perseverance camera toward the sun and observe A Huge sunspot We didn’t know otherwise. This isn’t the first time Perseverance has detected sunspots, but this one was large enough to raise suspicions of big things happening by the time the sun’s orbit turned it toward Earth.

Sunspots are the easiest aspects of solar activity to observe, but their significance is small in and of itself. Coronal ejections, when portions of the sun’s magnetic field and plasma are released into space, are much more important. Although a coronal emission is usually associated with large sunspots, not every sunspot produces one.

However, on August 26, NASA detected an M1 flare rising from a part of the Sun that is currently hidden from our eyes, but will soon be heading towards us. The region is hidden enough that we can’t see the source of the glow, and according to Perseverance, it doesn’t come from the previously identified giant sunspot, and no other Perseverance can resolve it.

Like sunspots, not every flare produces a CME, and this one is thought to be just an M1-class flare. However, it was glowing Unusually long lastingAs a result, it appears to have triggered a large coronal ejection mass, freeing much of the plasma from the sun’s gravity and flinging it into space.

We’re not always able to predict whether a coronal ejection will collide with, or slide past, a planet until a little earlier, but in this case the NASA model indicates that Mars is in the firing line.

However, there is no need to feel left out. Another flame Yesterday may have produced a coronal ejection directed toward Earth, increasing the odds of a terrestrial aurora this weekend.

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