NASA’s Mars probe beams back selfie to mark four years in orbit

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft has beamed back a selfie to mark its four years orbiting Mars and studying the upper atmosphere of the red planet. The image was obtained with the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument that normally looks at ultraviolet emissions from the Martian upper atmosphere.

The MAVEN mission was launched on November 18, 2013, and went into orbit around Mars on September 21, 2014.

During its time at Mars, the spacecraft has acquired compelling evidence that the loss of atmosphere to space has been a major driver of climate change on Mars.

It also discovered two new types of Martian auroras — diffuse aurora and proton aurora. Neither type has a direct connection to the local or global magnetic field or to magnetic cusps, as auroras do on Earth.

MAVEN has demonstrated that the majority of the carbon dioxide (CO2) on the planet has been lost to space and that there is not enough left to terraform the planet by warming it, even if the CO2 could be released and put back into the atmosphere.

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission were developed by NASA to study the Martian atmosphere while orbiting Mars. MAVEN was launched aboard an Atlas V launch vehicle.

Mission goals include determining how the planet’s atmosphere and water, presumed to have once been substantial, were lost over time.

MAVEN mission has four primary scientific objectives:

  • Determine the role that loss of volatiles to space from the Martian atmosphere has played through time.
  • Determine the current state of the upper atmosphere, ionosphere, and interactions with the solar wind.
  • Determine the current rates of escape of neutral gases and ions to space and the processes controlling them.
  • Determine the ratios of stable isotopes in the Martian atmosphere.
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