Mohsen Al Awadhi is Director of Space Missions at the UAE Space Agency. He contributed this article to Space.com's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
Here at the UAE's Space Agency, the focus of our work for the past three years has centered around one piece of incredible technology: our Hope probe.
The first Emirati spacecraft to enter space, our probe is a symbol of the incredible technological innovation we have witnessed within our scientific community in the past few decades, and is giving us deeper insight into life on Mars and its atmosphere. Behind it, an incredible Emirati team, holding the highest scientific qualifications, are managing the planning, management and implementation of the Hope Probe project.
The data that has been gathered from our Emirates Mars Mission thus far is helping to form a new understanding of the atmosphere on the Red Planet and has made significant discoveries in terms of new auroras the Hope probe has managed to capture. These findings have resulted in 13 new published papers, several high-cadence images of Mars' impressive and surreal aurora and has ultimately discovered several new phenomena whilst confirming previous hypotheses.
As the first Arab and Islamic probe to Mars, made up of an Emirati team who hold the highest scientific qualifications, we have become one of only five countries to successfully reach and study Mars. Not only are we immensely proud of what this means for the UAE's space on the global stage, but we are also pleased that we've been able to gather invaluable data that will give us deeper insights into solving issues on Earth, whether that be climate change or food security.
New discoveries and phenomena observed
Despite entering space only three years ago, our probe has already picked up an abundance of high-cadence imagery and data. Perhaps most notably, our Hope Probe has captured high-cadence images of Mars' aurora.
The images that the Hope Probe has been able to capture are not only visually stunning but have contributed massively to a further understanding of the Red Planet's atmosphere, while offering magnificent imagery of space that is testimony to the impressive technology our community has designed. Between the three types of aurorae the Probe has captured, our spacecraft has even captured intricate imagery of the notoriously mysterious Sinuous Discrete Aurora.
The observation of both these two types of diffuse aurora, observed during intense solar storms and the discrete aurora, along with a third aurora, the proton aurora, has meant that our Hope Probe has managed to observe auroras on both nightside and dayside Mars. On top of this, images of the patchy discrete aurora, atomic hydrogen and Martian water-ice clouds have made the EMM the first mission to Mars to be able to characterize the daily variations of the atmosphere within and across the Martian seasons.
The Hope Probe's contribution to the scientific community
Since its entrance into space, the Hope Probe has made a significant contribution to the scientific community. It has published 13 new papers through the American Geophysical Union's (AGU) Geophysical Research Letters (GRL), under a special issue titled "The First Results from the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM)."
The EMM science team was able to publish several papers covering key data and findings captured by the science instruments on the Hope Probe, including the Emirates Mars InfraRed Spectrometer (EMIRS), Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer (EMUS) and the Emirates Exploration Imager (EXI).
The papers included studies on the current state of the Martian atmosphere, the planet's climate, and various natural phenomena, such as dust storms, atmospheric waves and large-scale dynamics. They also focused on the migrating thermal tides in the atmosphere, the Martian dayglow emissions, diurnal variations, the spatiotemporal structure of far ultraviolet Martian dayglow, combined analysis of hydrogen and oxygen emissions, various types of aurorae and many other phenomena on Mars. The papers also highlighted the lower atmosphere and how it changes throughout the day, seasons, and year, the visual appearance of light and dark surfaces, the atmospheric phenomena including clouds, fog, dust, and water ice clouds, as well as the Sinuous Discrete Aurora.
Changing orbit to Deimos
In addition to its original mission, our Hope Probe has now slightly changed its orbit, and is capturing first-of-its-kind data on Deimos, the smaller and outermost of the two natural satellites of Mars. To confirm, it is not a new orbit as much as a slight change that provides better opportunities to learn more about Deimos.
On its new journey to capture insight into Deimos, the Probe will move as close as 90 miles (150 kilometers) to the moon, allowing the Hope Probe's EXI, EMUS and EMIRS insruments to capture high cadence images and observations.
Orbiting Mars on a larger orbit, Deimos completes a revolution around the planet every 30 hours — so it is no small feat! We hope that our probe will capture some new imagery of Deimos that we haven't seen before, and help form a deeper understanding of this mysterious and elusive natural satellite. To put it in perspective, Deimos is less observed than the Red Planet's second and larger moon, Phobos.
As I mentioned at the start, here at the Space Agency, we're incredibly proud of the work we're doing with Hope to uncover new knowledge about our solar system and science beyond our planet. Already, we are seeing the practical application of these findings to our planet. In June of 2022, the Hope Probe scientific team took part in the 7th Mars Atmosphere Modeling and Observations workshop organized by Sorbonne University. The workshop included a focus on understanding Mars climate observations and the Hope Probe's observations in addition to Global Climate Modeling data. It is precisely this fundamental understanding of other planets that will provide us better insight into our own.
The space economy is hugely beneficial for providing deeper insight into solving issues of climate change, food security and national security and has always played a role as an incubator for innovation in matters that pose a threat to life on Earth, and we hope that, in working in collaboration with our global scientific community, our Hope spacecraft will continue to make significant contributions to this bank of knowledge.
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Mohsen Al Awadhi is director of space missions at the UAE Space Agency.