Project MAVEN Sheds New Light on Martian Atmosphere

by Tom Edathikunnel

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The latest data regarding Mars over the last several years has transformed speculation into identifiable atmospheric findings. Previous missions to Mars have shown scientists that the atmosphere of the red planet has changed drastically over time and have found evidence of the former abundance of liquid water on its surface. These exciting findings raise new questions. Where did the Marian atmosphere go and what happened to its water? NASA’s latest mission aims to find out.

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN mission is a satellite mission that will orbit Mars and investigate how the sun interacts with its atmosphere. The satellite aims to explore how the sun may have stripped the Martian atmosphere, turning the possibly lush and habitable plant into the cold and barren desert we see today. MAVEN is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the Martian atmosphere.

Following an elliptical orbit, this unique spacecraft will graze the atmosphere at 93 miles above the planet’s surface. At this altitude, the spacecraft will pass through the upper atmosphere and will be able to sample gas and other ionic compositions directly. The MAVEN will carry three instrument suites to analyze and observe the Martian atmosphere. The main payload consists of the Particles and Fields Package (PFP), containing six instruments that characterize solar wind and the ionosphere of the planet. Other instruments will measure the composition and isotopes.Its highest point will be more than 3,728 miles above the surface, allowing the MAVEN to map the entire planet in rich ultraviolet imaging.

This fusion of both these long and short-range instruments give this mission an unparalleled vision of the red planet, and give a scientists a clear and better defined profile of the Martian atmosphere. With more research and further findings, the incessant question of the evaporated Martian atmosphere, as well as the question of its hospitality for life, may finally be answered.

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