Scientific mission begins: UAE’s Hope probe will study space dust on the way to Mars

Interplanetary dust could provide key insights into how our universe was formed

An interplanetary dust cloud. Courtesy: European Space Agency 
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The Hope probe will study space dust on its way to Mars using its on-board camera.

It is believed interplanetary dust played an important role in the formation of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

UAE’s Hope orbiter will use its star tracker, a navigational camera it has been using to reach Mars, to study the dust density and its distribution throughout the solar system.

“The current performance of Hope has provided the science team an opportunity to make measurements, capturing valuable science data that can only be captured en route to a planet," said Omran Sharaf, project director of Emirates Mars Mission.

"This means that we will actually have commenced science data gathering even before we enter into our capture orbit in February and then transition to our science orbit," he said.

“We will be making novel science data available to the international community even earlier than we had originally planned.”

Interplanetary dust in the Centaurus A galaxy. Courtesy: Nasa 
Interplanetary dust in the Centaurus A galaxy. Courtesy: Nasa 

The findings will be combined with data being collected by a spacecraft en route to Mercury.

European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft is also tracking the dust and distribution of hydrogen within the Sun's heliosphere.

Interplanetary dust is mostly released by comets as they get closer to the Sun, but some include particles that predate our solar system.

In 2018, researchers in Hawaii found leftover dust from the birth of our solar system preserved in comets.

Studying these tiny particles could help them learn more about how our planets and sun formed.

Emirates Mars Mission’s science team is hoping that measuring the dust density will provide more data on the distribution of dust throughout the solar system.

Dr Illias Fernini, an associate professor of astrophysics at University of Sharjah, said the findings could also help astronomers and scientists better understand the dust that exists between Earth and Mars.

“Knowing the density helps us understand where the dust is, is it uniform or is it distributed equally between planets,” he said.

“Or is it just concentrated on some part of the solar system? If this spacecraft can do these measurements right, we get extra information of this interplanetary dust that exists between Earth and Mars.”

Asteroid-return missions also help space experts learn more about the dust.

Hope will enter the Martian orbit on February 9.

Shortly before, its ultraviolet spectrometer (EMUS) will be turned to capture the Red Planet’s exospheric hydrogen – gas that exists on the very edge of the planet’s atmosphere.

“The accuracy of our trajectory during the cruise, confirmed by TCM3 [the third course correction manoeuvre], has enabled us to now plan new scientific observations in our final approach to Mars,” said Mr Sharaf.

“We will be using the EMUS spectrograph to make early observations of Mars’ outer hydrogen halo as well as adding new data to interplanetary hydrogen modelling.”

Hope will spend two years in Mars’ science orbit, studying its thin atmosphere and weather conditions.

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