Monday, November 18, 2013

MAVEN Launches to Mars to Study Atmosphere of the Red Planet

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission, has successfully launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

MAVEN on the launch pad
credit: NASA
MAVEN lifted off from Launch Complex 41 atop an Atlas V rocket at 18:28 Irish Time to mark the beginning of a ten month-long journey to the Red Planet.

The spacecraft, due to arrive at Mars in September 2014, will spend one Earth-year conducting its primary mission objectives. MAVEN will do this by using its scientific instruments to sample the uppermost regions of the martian atmosphere at its closest point in its elliptical orbit, just 150km above the surface. At this altitude, the spacecraft can sample the gas and ion composition directly.

At its highest point(6000km), MAVEN will carry out ultraviolet imaging of the entire planet. The altitude in MAVEN's orbit will be lowered five times over the course of the mission, in a maneuver known as a "deep dip." In each deep dip, the spacecraft will fly just 125km above the surface, gathering measurements and information about the well-mixed lower atmosphere of Mars, giving scientists a full profile of the top of the atmosphere.

Mission Objectives
The main goal of MAVEN is to study the upper atmosphere of Mars, and try to understand why the planet has lost so much of its atmosphere over time. Scientists believe that Mars was once a planet that was able to support microbial life, yet today, we see the planet as a cold desert-like inhospitable world.

Did You Know?
MAVEN is NASA's first Mars Mission to be managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Once MAVEN has finished its primary mission objectives, it is hoped that scientists back on Earth will have a better understanding as to what happened to the atmosphere of Mars, and how did a world that appeared to be teeming with microbial life end up like a desert.

The spacecraft will study how much atmosphere has been lost to space by measuring the current rate of escape, and why this is so.

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