Future Mars helicopter flights could make the air glow blue

With the big ones Success of the Mars helicopter Ingenuity, we could see many more planes exploring other planets in the future. And a recent study has revealed an intriguing possibility: that the blades of drones cutting through the thin atmosphere on Mars could cause the air around them to glow.

Similar to the effect of corona here on Earth, this glow could be caused by blades creating small electrical currents in the Martian atmosphere. “The faint glow would be most visible in the evening hours when the background sky is darker,” study lead author William Farrell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center explained in a Explanation. “NASA’s experimental Ingenuity helicopter is not flying during this time, but future drones may be cleared for evening flight and look for this glow.”

This is an artist’s concept of a glow surrounding a drone on Mars during flight. Exaggerated for visibility, the glow could be created when the drone’s spinning rotor blades create an electric field that causes electric currents to flow in the Martian air around the craft. Although the currents generated by the drone in the atmosphere are small, they could be large enough to cause the air around the rotor blades and other parts of the spacecraft to glow blue-purple. NASA/Jay Friedlander

The glowing effect would be whimsical and intriguing, but it’s no cause for concern for the welfare of future drones, according to the researchers. “The electrical currents generated by the rapidly rotating drone rotor blades are too small to pose a threat to the spacecraft or the Martian environment, but they offer the opportunity to conduct additional scientific investigations to further our understanding of an accumulation of electrical charge called ‘triboelectric charging.’ ‘ Farrell said.

Triboelectricity is a type of static electricity where small electrical charges build up when two materials rub together and create a charge – like when you rub a balloon and hold it close to your head and it attracts your hair. On Mars, rotor blades could build up a charge as they slice through the atmosphere, aggravated by the high concentrations of dust on Mars. This charge builds up until the atmosphere begins to conduct electricity, thereby discharging the charge from the ship.

This effect would be enhanced by Mars’ thin atmosphere and could be so strong that the air around a vehicle glows blue-purple. But the researchers stress that this effect is only a prediction, and they would have to test the phenomenon with real flights on Mars to see if it actually happens.

The research is published in the Planetary Science Journal.

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