NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) spacecraft has captured incredible ultraviolet views of the Red Planet using its Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument. These images were captured between 2022 and 2023 when Mars was near opposite ends of its elliptical orbit. The image you see above was observed in July 2022, during the southern hemisphere’s summer season.
What makes the IUVS instrument so special is that it measures wavelengths between 110 and 340 nanometers, outside the visible spectrum. For human eyes to see these wavelengths, the images had to be rendered with the varying brightness levels of three ultraviolet wavelength ranges represented as red, green, and blue. This means the atmospheric ozone appears purple, while clouds and hazes appear white or blue. A tan or green is the surface, but it all depends on how the images have been optimized to increase contrast as well as show detail. The image above depicts Mars’ northern hemisphere and was photographed in January 2023.
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MAVEN launched in November 2013 and entered Mars’ orbit in September 2014. The mission’s goal is to explore the planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere, and interactions with the Sun and solar wind to explore the loss of the Martian atmosphere to space. Understanding atmospheric loss gives scientists insight into the history of Mars’ atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability. The MAVEN team is preparing to celebrate the spacecraft’s 10th year at Mars in September 2024,” said Willow Reed, MAVEN Communications Lead.