Understanding Mars climate: Sun stripped most of red planet's atmosphere to space, NASA's MAVEN spacecraft reveals how

17 June 2017, 07:00 PM
NASA MAVEN reveals how Sun stripped Mars' atmosphere
NASA MAVEN reveals how Sun stripped Mars' atmosphere

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) has come up with a series of discoveries and has revealed how the Sun stripped Mars of most of its atmosphere to space. NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft has successfully completed 1,000 Earth days in orbit around Mars.

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft has been designed to dedicatedly understand the upper atmosphere of the Red Planet. It started its primary science mission in November 2014. The spacecraft studies the role that loss of atmospheric gas to space played in changing the climate of Mars through time.

“We’re excited that MAVEN is continuing its observations. It’s now observing a second Martian year, and looking at the ways that the seasonal cycles and the solar cycle affect the system,” Gina DiBraccio, MAVEN Project Scientist at NASA, said in a statement.

Also, MAVEN has measured the rate at which the Sun and the solar wind strip gas from the top of the atmosphere to space. It has also obtained the details of the removal processes. A layer of metal ions in the ionosphere of the red planet is born from the incoming interplanetary dust hitting the atmosphere, it has been observed.

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft also found that some particles coming from the solar wind manage to penetrate unexpectedly deep into the upper atmosphere, rather than being diverted around the planet by the Martian ionosphere. 

“MAVEN has made tremendous discoveries about the Mars upper atmosphere and how it interacts with the sun and the solar wind,” said Bruce Jakosky, Principal Investigator, University of Colorado, Boulder.

“These are allowing us to understand not just the behaviour of the atmosphere today, but how the atmosphere has changed through time,” Jakosky added. 

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The distribution of gaseous nitric oxide and ozone in the Martian atmosphere that displayed unexpectedly complex behaviour was also observed by MAVEN. It indicated that there are dynamical processes of exchange of gas between the lower and upper atmosphere that are not understood at present.

ALSO READ | Metal in Mars atmosphere, NASA MAVEN spacecraft detects electrically charged atoms around red planet

First Published: Saturday, June 17, 2017 04:30 PM
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