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Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics

IUVS Imaging Highlights

The Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) aboard the MAVEN spacecraft is one of the most powerful spectrographs sent to another planet, with several key capabilities:

  • Separate Far-UV & Mid-UV channels for stray light control;
  • A high resolution echelle mode to resolve deuterium and hydrogen emission;
  • Internal instrument pointing and scanning capabilities to allow complete mapping and nearly-continuous operation; and
  • Optimization for airglow studies.

The images and videos collected here represent just some of the highlights from the IUVS instrument, since it began collecting science observations at Mars in October 2014.

This animation shows a proton aurora at Mars. First, a solar wind proton approaches Mars at high speed and encounters a cloud of hydrogen surrounding the planet. The proton steals an electron from a Martian hydrogen atom, thereby becoming a neutral atom. The atom passes through the bowshock, a magnetic obstacle surrounding Mars, because neutral particles are not affected by magnetic fields. Finally, the hydrogen atom enters Mars’ atmosphere and collides with gas molecules, causing the atom to emit ultraviolet light. (Courtesy NASA-GSFC/MAVEN/Dan Gallagher)

MAVEN observations of a proton aurora. In the top panel, natural variability of the solar wind results in occasional dense flows of solar wind protons bombarding Mars. At bottom, observations by MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph show increased ultraviolet emission from the atmosphere when the solar wind is enhanced. (Courtesy NASA/MAVEN/University of Colorado/LASP/Anil Rao)

Images from MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) were used to make this movie of rapid cloud formation on Mars on July 9-10, 2016. The ultraviolet colors of the planet have been rendered in false color, to show what we would see with ultraviolet-sensitive eyes. The movie uses four MAVEN images to show about 7 hours of Mars rotation during this period, and interleaves simulated views that would be seen between the four images. Mars’ day is similar to Earth’s, so the movie shows just over a quarter day. The left part of the planet is in morning and the right side in afternoon. Mars’ prominent volcanoes, topped with white clouds, can be seen moving across the disk. Mars’ tallest volcano, Olympus Mons, appears as a prominent dark region near the top of the images, with a small white cloud at the summit that grows during the day. Olympus Mons appears dark because the volcano rises up above much of the hazy atmosphere which makes the rest of the planet appear lighter. Three more volcanoes appear in a diagonal row, with their cloud cover merging to span up to a thousand miles by the end of the day. These images are particularly interesting because they show how rapidly and extensively the clouds topping the volcanoes form in the afternoon. Similar processes occur at Earth, with the flow of winds over mountains creating clouds. Afternoon cloud formation is a common occurrence in the American West, especially during the summer. (Courtesy NASA/MAVEN/University of Colorado-LASP)

This animation shows the sudden appearance of a bright aurora on Mars during a solar storm. The purple-white color scheme shows the intensity of ultraviolet light seen on Mars’ night side over the course of the event. The data are from observations on Sept. 12 and 13, 2017, by the MAVEN Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph instrument (IUVS). The aurora is occurring because energetic particles from the solar storm are bombarding gases in the planet’s atmosphere, causing them to glow. A simulated image of the Mars surface for the same time and orientation is also shown, with the dayside crescent visible on the right. The auroral emission appears brightest at the edges of the planet where the line of sight passes along the length of the glowing atmosphere layer. Note that, unlike auroras on Earth, the Martian aurora is not concentrated at the planet’s polar regions. This is because Mars has no strong magnetic field like Earth’s to concentrate the aurora near the poles. (Courtesy NASA/Univ. of Colorado Boulder-LASP)

These images from the MAVEN Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph show the appearance of a bright aurora on Mars during a solar storm in September 2017. The purple-white colors shows the intensity of ultraviolet light on Mars’ night side before (left) and during (right) the event. (Courtesy NASA/University of Colorado Boulder-LASP)

MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph obtained this image of Mars on July 13, 2016, when the planet appeared nearly full as viewed from the highest altitudes in the MAVEN orbit. The ultraviolet colors of the planet have been rendered in false color, to show what we would see with ultraviolet-sensitive eyes. (Courtesy CU/LASP and NASA/GSFC)

Three views of an escaping atmosphere, obtained by MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph. By observing all of the products of water and carbon dioxide breakdown, MAVEN’s remote sensing team can characterize the processes that drive atmospheric loss on Mars. These processes may have transformed the planet from an early Earthlike climate to the cold and dry climate of today.
(Courtesy University of Colorado; NASA)