NASA's Maven spacecraft discovers aurora and dust cloud around Mars

The NASA Maven spacecraft has been orbiting mars and performing its scientific duties and has made a couple interesting discoveries. Maven has discovered an unexplained high altitude dust cloud around Mars and an aurora that reaches deep into the Martian atmosphere. The dust cloud is at orbital altitudes 93 to 190 miles above the surface.

The source and composition of the dust are unknown and NASA did not expect a dust cloud at that altitude. The space agency is quick to point out that no hazard to Maven and other spacecraft orbiting Mars exists due to the unexpected discovery.

NASA scientists say that if the source of the dust is from the atmosphere of Mars, it indicates scientists have missed some fundamental process in the Martian atmosphere. The dust cloud was detected by the Maven Langmuir Probe and Waves instrument. It's unclear at this time if the dust cloud is permanent or a temporary phenomena. The dust could have come from dust that traveled up into the atmosphere from Mars or from Phobos and Deimos, Mars' two moons.

The aurora was discovered using the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph and has been dubbed "Christmas Lights." The name originates from the presence of the aurora for five days before December 25. NASA was surprised by how deep in the atmosphere the aurora occurred on Mars. The energetic particles creating the aurora on Mars appear to be from the sun.