Launched in 2013, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft is one of the little know spacecraft orbiting our red neighbor.
MAVEN’s primary mission is to determine the role that loss of atmospheric gas to space played in changing the Martian climate through time. And, more importantly, where did the atmosphere and the water go?
Although it doesn’t sound very exciting, the mission has ramifications for our planet. Is what happened on Mars likely to happen to us? Since I still like to breath, it is a pretty important question to answer. However, because we have a greater mass, our atmosphere is more protected than Mars.
Although some people believe that Mars lost it’s atmosphere because it’s core isn’t spinning, that isn’t the case. The core of Venus isn’t spinning and it has way too much atmosphere. So, it is most likely due to the size of Mars and that it doesn’t have enough mass to keep an atmosphere for long periods of time.
It seems that the Sun is to blame for most of Mars atmosphere bleeding off into space. Maven found that solar-wind particles in the ionosphere hit molecules in the upper atmosphere, the interactions make the particles neutral and allow them to move into lower altitudes, past the shield of the ionosphere, then re-emerge as ions again. This process is known as ‘sputtering.’ Atoms are knocked away from the atmosphere due to impacts from energetic particles from the solar wind.
Now that MAVEN is fully operations, after doing a duck and cover for comet Sliding Spring, more answers will help us understand what we need to do to make Mars more habitable for future manned missions and potential colonization.
– Ex astris, scientia –
I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine. As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +, or by email.