The James Webb Space Telescope captured its first images and spectra of Mars on September 5, 2022. The telescope’s remarkable infrared sensitivity provides a unique perspective on our neighboring planet, complementing data collected by orbiters, rovers, and other telescopes.
Because it is so close, the Red Planet is one of the brightest objects in the night sky in terms of both visible light (which human eyes can see) and the infrared light that Webb is designed to detect. This poses special challenges to the facility, which was built to detect the extremely faint light of the most distant galaxies in the universe. Webb’s instruments are so sensitive that without special observing techniques, the bright infrared light from Mars is saturating the detector.
BELSPO, the Belgian federal science policy office, has created a virtual expo describing the long journey of NOMAD from first concept to current mission around Mars.
By combining observations from three international spacecraft at Mars, scientists were able to show that regional dust storms play a huge role in drying out the Red Planet.
Dust storms heat up higher altitudes of the cold Martian atmosphere, preventing water vapor from freezing as usual and allowing it to reach farther up. In the higher reaches of Mars, where the atmosphere is sparse, water molecules are left vulnerable to ultraviolet radiation, which breaks them up into their lighter components of hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen, which is the lightest element, is easily lost to space, with oxygen either escaping or settling back to the surface.
ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has detected glowing green oxygen in Mars’ atmosphere – the first time that this emission has been seen around a planet other than Earth. “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,” says Jean-Claude Gérard of the Université de Liège, Belgium, and lead author of the new study published in Nature Astronomy. “However, this emission has been predicted to exist at Mars for around 40 years – and, thanks to TGO, we’ve found it.”
Searching for biomarkers on Mars is a primary goal of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. A key biomarker of interest is methane, as much of the methane found on Earth is produced by living things or geological activity – and so the same may be true for Mars.
The ‘methane mystery’ on Mars has been ongoing for many years, with contradictory findings from missions including ESA’s Mars Express and NASA’s Curiosity rover capturing sporadic spikes and bursts of the gas in Mars’ atmosphere, fluctuations both in orbit and at the planet's surface, signs of the gas varying with the seasons, or not observing any methane at all.
10 April 2019
New evidence of the impact of the recent planet-encompassing dust storm on water in the atmosphere, and a surprising lack of methane, are among the scientific highlights of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter's first year in orbit.
Two papers are published in the journal Nature today describing the new results, and reported in a dedicated press briefing at the European Geosciences Union in Vienna.
NOMAD at Parentville for 'La nuit des étoiles'
13 Oct. 2018
During the 'Nuit des étoiles', the Scientific Center at Parentville organized a series of activities: looking at the night sky, exhibition, Kids activities, and a presentation on NOMAD. more info : Nuit des etoiles