NASA has discovered an aurora on Mars that could explain why the planet is no longer capable of supporting life.
So, we would more commonly associate auroras with the Northern Lights, pretty green coloured lights in the sky and all that, but this is slightly different.
Basically, once upon a time, Mars was covered in water and even had lakes and the like. However, now it's red, dry, and lifeless. This new aurora could be why.
Finding out the secrets of this aurora, and why the water eventually left Mars, could help us in the quest to discover where the Martians went to, if they were ever really there at all.
It's not visible to the human eye because it gives off ultraviolet light, but the scientists think that it is generated by hydrogen that is escaping from water on Mars into the atmosphere.
That's been going on at a slow rate for quite a while.
Now, a spacecraft called MAVEN - that's the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, in case you didn't know - is orbiting the planet and observing it with a special bit of kit called the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph, which is able to detect (and is therefore being used to study) the aurora.
This, they hope, will give us a decent idea as to how the water loss from the planet is 'transforming its climate from one that might have supported life to one that is cold, dry, and inhospitable'.
So says Andrea Hughes from the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, Florida, anyway.
She's the lead author of a paper on this fascinating discovery. She said: "Perhaps one day, when interplanetary travel becomes commonplace, travellers arriving at Mars during southern summer will have front-row seats to observe Martian proton aurora majestically dancing across the day-side of the planet (while wearing ultraviolet-sensitive goggles, of course).
"These travellers will witness first-hand the final stages of Mars losing the remainder of its water to space."
This is all relevant because if we can better understand this aurora, we can figure out whether or not it is caused by the water from Mars escaping into space.
Then, once we manage to study the reasons why it is heading off into space through the atmosphere, then we can determine whether there ever was life on Mars after all, or if it has always simply been a dull red lifeless rock.
That'd be interesting, wouldn't it?
Featured Image Credit: NASA
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