We report the detection of intense emission from magnesium and iron in Mars' atmosphere caused by a meteor shower following Comet Siding Spring's close encounter with Mars. The observations were made with the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph, a remote sensing instrument on the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN spacecraft orbiting Mars. Ionized magnesium caused the brightest emission from the planet's atmosphere for many hours, resulting from resonant scattering of solar ultraviolet light. Modeling suggests a substantial fluence of low-density dust particles 1-100 μm in size, with the large amount and small size contrary to predictions. The event created a temporary planet-wide ionospheric layer below Mars' main dayside ionosphere. The dramatic meteor shower response at Mars is starkly different from the case at Earth, where a steady state metal layer is always observable but perturbations caused by even the strongest meteor showers are challenging to detect.
- Comet Siding Spring
- meteor ablation
- meteor shower
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)