Mars – The MAVEN Mission

MAVEN-Artist-Concept-Mars-Arrival-br2_credit_NASA_GSFC

Image credit: NASA, GSFC

It has been a long time since I’ve written in my blog. I have been so busy. Anyway, I would like to write something about Mars.

On 21st September 2014 the MAVEN spacecraft, that NASA launched, reached Mars and gone into orbit around the planet. The purpose of this mission is to determine why Mars has such a thin atmosphere and the rate at which Mars is losing its atmosphere. From this it can be determined whether the atmosphere was thick enough to sustain life in the past.

We think that billions of years ago Mars had a thick atmosphere and rivers and oceans of liquid water also once flowed. This may have then supported simple microscopic life.

valley_network_credit_NASA_JPL _Caltech

Image credit: NASA, JPL , Caltech

 

If you look at the surface of Mars you will see valleys carved into the surface, exactly like the ones on Earth that was caused by rivers. The example shown on the left is found in the southern hemisphere highlands, and it is estimated to be formed about 3.8 billion years ago.

 

 

 

 

However, now Mars is mostly a desert, with the exception of the polar caps. The picture below shows how Mars looks today on the surface. It was taken from the Curiosity rover from a different NASA mission. Click on the image to see it enlarged.

PIA17931-FigB_M34-sol528-raw-br2_Image Credit_NASA_JPL-CaltechNASA_JPL_Caltech_MSSS

Image credit: NASA, JPL-CaltechNASA, JPL, Caltech, MSSS

The picture below shows how Mars looks now. Put the mouse curser over the picture to see how the same area looked when it had oceans.

Artistic impression of Mars with oceans.
Image credit to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Now the MAVEN spacecraft has completed 1 complete orbit of the planet. It has found that 100 grams of the Marsian atmosphere is lost every second. This does not sound very much but over time it mounts up. The Martian atmosphere is now very thin. To read more about the MAVEN mission, vist the NASA’s website at:

http://mars.nasa.gov/

 

 

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