NASA to probe why Mars lost its atmosphere

Oct 28, 2013
NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft with solar panels extended is checked by technicians on September 27, 2013 at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida in preparation for a launch to Mars

NASA said Monday it is on track to launch its Maven probe to Mars next month to find out why the Red Planet lost much of its atmosphere.

The unmanned spaceship is scheduled to leave Earth on November 18 at 1:38 pm (1739 GMT).

The 10-month journey to Mars means that if all goes well, the probe will arrive in late September 2014, and will begin its year long orbiting mission in November, space agency scientists said.

It will soar at an altitude of 3,800 miles (6,115 kilometers) above Mars's surface, and dip down to a 78 miles (125 kilometers) five times during the mission.

Maven, which stands for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission has three suites of instruments to detect changes in Mars' upper atmosphere.

However, it will not hunt for methane, a gas which signals the presence of living microbes or organic materials.

NASA's Curiosity rover is patrolling the surface of Mars and has found only trace amounts of methane in the Martian atmosphere, disappointing those who hoped to find higher levels, indicating the presence of some life forms there.

Still, scientists said Maven may add to knowledge of what Mars was like before the Sun conspired to strip it of its atmosphere.

The planet that neighbors Earth "underwent a major climate change in its past," said Jim Green, director of the planetary science division at NASA headquarters.

"Maven will tell us why Mars went through the such dramatic atmospheric changes over the years."

Mars' atmosphere is "now too cold, too thin to support liquid water," said Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator at the University of Colorado, Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

"Maven will focus on the history of Mars's and whether it was able to support life as we know it."

The overall mission costs $671 million, and if it reaches orbit successfully, it may have enough fuel to continue for almost a decade, said Jakosky.

"We are hoping for a very long mission," he told reporters.

The Maven mission is part of a series of rovers and probes that aim to return key data about Mars before a planned to send humans there as early as the 2030s, NASA has said.

The 5,410-pound (2,453-kilogram) spacecraft will launch aboard an Atlas V 401 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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User comments : 5

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rwinners
5 / 5 (1) Oct 28, 2013
Is the magnetic theory.. or the size/lack of sufficient magnetism to create the atmospheric conditions that prevent loss due to 'boiling'?
ScottyB
1 / 5 (1) Oct 29, 2013
Is the magnetic theory.. or the size/lack of sufficient magnetism to create the atmospheric conditions that prevent loss due to 'boiling'?

That's what i always thought, if this is the case then damn, this is a waste of money, if on the other and it is something entirely different then OOOOOOOO, exciting!

saying that, no science can be a waste of money, even if they prove the theory about lack of a magnetic core to be the case, it will be worth it.

so i have just countered my whole point. no idea why im posting now
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
not rated yet Oct 29, 2013
@rwinners: Each planet has a different atmosphere, magnetosphere, distance from the Sun and its light radiation, solar wind and particle outbursts (CMEs), geothermal and geochemical activity. So the atmosphere loss and gain is individual.

There is an interesting theory that fits flow patterns on Mars which constrain the atmosphere that could sustain liquid water to ~ 200 million years at the time the Tharsis volcanic region was most active. (At the time Gale crater was founded, predicting why Curiosity found traces of flowing water).

That implies to me that Mars has always lost atmosphere fast, meaning it is the size rather than other factors. (Say, its dynamo magnetic field was presumably active then, while the young Sun had stopped throw CME tantrums but was still at ~ 70 % of today's light and wind output.)

We'll see what Maven finds. It will correlate with Curiosity, so we will learn a lot of present and past atmospheres both.
GSwift7
5 / 5 (1) Oct 29, 2013
to find out why the Red Planet lost much of its atmosphere


Somebody poked it with a needle?

That's what i always thought


Yeah, all kidding aside, you guys are on the right track. The current theory is that Mars did have a magnetic field at one time, but as the planet cooled and became geologically dead, it lost it and then the atmosphere. They can make a fairly good guess at whether that's the case or not with Maven's measurements.

Just be clarify. The spacecraft doesn't swoop in close once in a while, it's in a highly eliptical orbit, so it goes in close to Mars on every orbit. BTW, that long swing out makes it nearly useless as a comm's relay after its mission is done; that's a shame, but oh well.
GSwift7
not rated yet Oct 29, 2013
which constrain the atmosphere that could sustain liquid water to ~ 200 million years at the time the Tharsis volcanic region was most active


That might explain why there's no sign of life as well. Such a short period of wet atmosphere may not have been long enough.

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