Tuesday, September 16, 2008

MAVEN to Search for Lost Martian Atmosphere

MAVEN or the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN spacecraft, is NASA's latest $485 million plan for a 2013 mission to the red planet.

The spacecraft will take the first direct measurements of the Martian atmospheric gases, upper atmosphere, solar wind, and ionosphere; a hefty package of information that will provide new details into Mars' climate history. The spacecraft's eight instruments will take measurement for one full earth year, or roughly half a Martian year.

Scientists know that there was once water on Mars, sustained by its denser atmosphere. As the planet underwent significant climate change, most of the Martian atmosphere was lost. Investigating current atmospheric loss may help researchers understand how Mars got to its present state, with an atmosphere that is no longer capable of harboring water.

In the fall of 2014, MAVEN will use its propulsion system to travel around Mars in an egg-shaped path called an elliptical orbit, 90 to 3,870 miles above the planet. In order to take samples of the entire upper atmosphere, MAVEN will drop to about 80 miles above the Martian ground.

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