December 8, 2014
Looking to Mars to Help Understand Changing Climates
The New York Times
We haven’t found life on Mars, but decades of robotic exploration have indeed strengthened astronomers’ convictions that rivers and perhaps even oceans once flowed on the red planet. “I think the short story is the atmosphere went away and the oceans froze but are still there, locked up in subsurface ice,” said Chris McKay, an astrobiologist and Mars expert at NASA’s Ames Research Center.
In September a new spacecraft known as MAVEN, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, swung into orbit around the planet. Its job is to get a longer answer to one part of the mysterious Martian climate change, namely where the planet’s atmosphere went.
November 11, 2014
Newest NASA Mars Orbiter Demonstrates Relay Prowess
The newest node in NASA's Mars telecommunications network -- a radio aboard the MAVEN orbiter custom-designed for data links with robots on the surface of Mars -- handled a copious 550 megabits during its first relay of real Mars data.
MAVEN's Electra UHF radio received the transmission from NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on Nov. 6, using an adaptive data rate as the orbiter passed through the sky over the rover. The data that MAVEN relayed to NASA's Deep Space Network of large dish antennas on Earth included several images of terrain that Curiosity has been examining at the base of Mars' Mount Sharp. The test also included relaying data to Curiosity from Earth via MAVEN.
November 7, 2014
Mind-blowing Meteor Shower on Mars During Comet Flyby, Say NASA Scientists
“Thousands of meteors per hour would have been visible — truly astounding to the human eye.” That’s Nick Schneider’s description of what you and I would have seen standing on Mars during Comet Siding Spring’s close flyby last month. “It would have been really mind-blowing,” he added. Schneider is instrument lead for MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS). He and a group of scientists who work as lead investigators for instruments on the MAVEN and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft shared the latest results from the comet flyby during a media teleconference earlier today. There were many surprises. Would we expect anything less from a comet?
October 14, 2014
Hydrogen cloud blows off Mars
The first images from NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft show a planet in the process of losing parts of itself. Streams of hydrogen atoms drift away from the red planet, into the depths of space. The pictures are the first clear look at how crucial elements erode away from the Martian atmosphere, says Bruce Jakosky, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the mission’s principal investigator. MAVEN’s goal is to measure how the solar wind and other factors nibble away at Mars’s atmosphere, so that scientists can better extrapolate how the once-thick atmosphere has thinned over billions of years. That process transformed Mars from a relatively warm, wet planet into a mostly dry, mostly frozen wasteland.
October 2, 2014
India, U.S. Agree to Joint Exploration of Mars
The Wall Street Journal
India’s satellite Mangalyaan has only been orbiting Mars for a week, but already space scientists back on Earth are planning their next mission: this time in tandem with the U.S.
On Tuesday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration signed an agreement to work with the Indian Space Research Organisation during future explorations of Mars. They also agreed to join forces in observations and scientific analysis from their respective satellites currently orbiting the red planet.
September 24, 2014
MAVEN Spacecraft Returns First Mars Observations
NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has obtained its first observations of the extended upper atmosphere surrounding Mars.
The Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument obtained these false-color images eight hours after the successful completion of Mars orbit insertion by the spacecraft at 10:24 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 21, after a 10-month journey.
The image shows the planet from an altitude of 36,500 km in three ultraviolet wavelength bands. Blue shows the ultraviolet light from the sun scattered from atomic hydrogen gas in an extended cloud that goes to thousands of kilometers above the planet’s surface. Green shows a different wavelength of ultraviolet light that is primarily sunlight reflected off of atomic oxygen, showing the smaller oxygen cloud. Red shows ultraviolet sunlight reflected from the planet’s surface; the bright spot in the lower right is light reflected either from polar ice or clouds.
Mars Robotic Spacecraft Population Reaches New High
September has shaped up to be a very exciting month in the annals of Mars exploration. Two new spacecraft, NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission and India's first interplanetary mission, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), have now entered orbit around the Red Planet.
The new arrivals bring the population of active Mars missions to seven—a record high, confirms Bruce Betts of The Planetary Society, a space advocacy organization. On the ground now are Opportunity, which landed in 2004, and NASA's Curiosity rover, which recently entered its third year of operation.
MAVEN and MOM join a complement of three orbiters: NASA's 13-year-old Mars Odyssey spacecraft, the European Space Agency's 11-year-old Mars Express spacecraft, and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which arrived in 2006.
September 21, 2014
MAVEN arrives at Mars for atmospheric study mission
After a 10 month journey between planets, NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft has arrived at the Mars on Sunday, 21 September 2014 for a mission dedicated to detailed exploration of the Martian atmosphere. Insertion into Martian orbit occurred at around 21:50 EDT, followed by a commissioning period and observation of comet Siding Spring throughout October.
LIVE Now: MAVEN Arrives at Mars
NASA's Mars MAVEN mission set to enter Red Planet's orbit Sunday
The Denver Post
MAVEN has traveled 442 million miles since its November launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The $671 million mission has deep Colorado roots: It was built in Littleton by Lockheed Martin Space Systems; Centennial-based United Launch Alliance provided the launch vehicle; mission operations are being handled at Lockheed's Waterton Canyon facility in Jefferson County; and science operations are being led by University of Colorado at Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. About $300 million of the project budget remained in Colorado, CU officials say.
NASA Mars Orbiter Arrives at Red Planet Tonight: Watch It Live
A NASA spacecraft built to study the atmosphere of Mars like never before will arrive at the Red Planet tonight (Sept. 21) and you can watch it live online. After 10 months in deep-space, NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft is expected to enter orbit around Mars and begin a one-year mission studying the planet's upper atmosphere. The Mars arrival will cap a 442 million-mile (711 million kilometers) trek across the solar system.
September 18, 2014
MAVEN spacecraft close to entering Mars orbit -- and it won't be alone
NASA says its latest Mars-exploring spacecraft is on track to fire up its thrusters and enter orbit this Sunday night, completing a 10-month journey of 442 million miles.
NASA's MAVEN craft will live up to its formal name -- the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution craft -- by helping scientists figure out how ancient Mars changed so dramatically into the planet we know today.
It will be the first mission devoted to studying the upper Martian atmosphere as a key to understanding the history of Mars' climate, water and habitability.
August 15, 2014
Mars Orbiters Duck for Cover
Sky & Telescope
As Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring hurtles toward Mars, NASA is taking steps to protect its Martian orbiters. The plan? Use the planet itself as a shield between the spacecraft and the comet’s potentially dangerous debris.
As part of its long-term Mars Exploration Program, NASA currently has two spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Mars Odyssey, with Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) set to arrive in late September. Teams of scientists at the University of Maryland, the Planetary Science Institute, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) have used data from both Earth-based and space telescopes to model Siding Spring’s journey through the inner solar system, and determined that there is no risk of the comet colliding with Mars. However, at its closest approach to Mars on October 19, 2014, Siding Spring will come within 82,000 miles of the Red Planet, which is about a third of the distance from Earth to the Moon. The closest comets ever to whiz by Earth have been at least ten times more distant.
August 12, 2014
Colliding Atmospheres: Mars vs Comet Siding Spring
On October 19, 2014, Comet Siding Spring will pass by Mars only 132,000 km away--which would be like a comet passing about 1/3 of the distance between Earth and the Moon.
The nucleus of the comet won't hit Mars, but there could be a different kind of collision.
"We hope to witness two atmospheres colliding," explains David Brain of the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). "This is a once in a lifetime event!" Everyone knows that planets have atmospheres. Lesser known is that comets do, too. The atmosphere of a comet, called its "coma," is made of gas and dust that spew out of the sun-warmed nucleus. The atmosphere of a typical comet is wider than Jupiter.
"It is possible," says Brain, "that the atmosphere of the comet will interact with the atmosphere of Mars. This could lead to some remarkable effects—including Martian auroras."
August 11, 2014
Mars-Bound Probes Built by India and NASA Are Nearing the Red Planet
Two Mars-bound spacecraft are both in excellent health ahead of their September arrivals in orbit around the Red Planet, managers for both missions report.
India's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is more than 80 percent of the way to Mars and performing well, according to a Facebook update posted July 21 by the Indian Space Research Organization. MOM is expected to enter orbit on Sept. 14.
The second craft, NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN), is also performing well. MAVEN is scheduled to embark on its final approach to the Red Planet on Sept. 21, one week after MOM's arrival, principal investigator Bruce Jakosky said. After months of checkouts and tests, the spacecraft will now be left quiet until close to the big day.
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