Why did Mars go from a wetter, Earth-like environment to a cold, dead place like it is today?
The answer to this question is the primary goal of NASA’s latest Mars probe.
Scheduled to launch by its massive United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket in November 2013, MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) will not reach the Red Planet for 10 months—sometime around September 2014.
Unlike the nine other orbiters that have studied Mars over the last 40 years, MAVEN will primarily study the thin martian atmosphere in order to more fully understand the reason why the Red Planet has lost most of its thick atmosphere, and with it, its wet, warm climate which is believed to have resembled the Earth’s at some point in the past. Today Mars retains an atmosphere just 1 percent as dense as Earth’s.
About the size of a school bus with its its solar panels deployed, the probe will use its eight science instruments to study the solar wind and Mars’ upper atmosphere, discerning its composition and how quickly its volatile compounds are escaping into space. This research will not only help us better understand Mars in its own right, but also the long-term mechanics of Earth’s changing atmosphere and how it has changed past climates.
10 years in the making, MAVEN is the first Mars mission managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, in conjunction with faculty and students from the University of Colorado.
Learn more about MAVEN here: NASA