The Maven Mission Will Try to Find Clues to Mars’ Missing Water

by Rachel Baker on November 18, 2013

Today, from Cape Canaveral Florida, the mission launches the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or Maven, spacecraft at 1:28pm EST/1828 GMT.

Scientists have no doubts that oceans and rivers once pooled on the surface of Mars, but what happened to all that water is a long-standing mystery. The prime suspect is the sun, which has been peeling away the planet’s atmosphere, molecule by molecule, for billions of years.

Exactly how that happens is the goal of Nasa’s new Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission, or Maven, which is scheduled for launch at 1:28pm EST/1828 GMT on Monday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Upon arrival in September 2014, Maven will put itself into orbit around Mars and begin scrutinising the thin layer of gases that remains in its skies.

“Maven is going to focus on trying to understand what the history of the atmosphere has been, how the climate has changed through time and how that has influenced the evolution of the surface and the potential habitability – at least by microbes – of Mars,” said the lead scientist Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Specifically, Maven will look at how much and what type of radiation is coming from the sun and other cosmic sources and how that impacts gases in Mars’s upper atmosphere.

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