maven mission

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NASA’s MAVEN Discovers How Mars Lost Its Atmosphere

“The good news for us, mind you, is that the magnetic field here on Earth shows no sign of ceasing anytime soon. The dynamo in the core may do things like flip and reverse, swapping north-and-south magnetic poles, but we should continue to stay protected from the solar wind far into the foreseeable future: for billions of years (at least) to be sure. We could, conceivably, one day suffer the same fate as Mars, but our mass, our rotation and our active, dynamic core should keep the Earth’s magnetic field in business for at least as long as the Sun shines!”

If you had taken a trip to our Solar System four billion years ago, you would have found two worlds with liquid water oceans, temperate atmospheres and all the conditions we believe are needed for life. Earth would have been one of them, but Mars would have met all those criteria, too. It was long suspected that something happened to Mars around a billion years into the Solar System’s history that caused it to lose its atmosphere, something that should still be going on today. Thanks to NASA’s Maven mission, we’ve measured this atmospheric stripping by the Sun for the first time, and we’ve reached a few incredible conclusions, including that in about two billion years, Mars will be completely airless, and that if we were to terraform Mars today, it would hang onto this new atmosphere for millions of years.

Come get the full story of how Mars lost its atmosphere, and learn what NASA’s Maven mission has taught us so far!

13 Reasons to Have an Out of This World Friday (the 13th)

1. Know that not all of humanity is bound to the ground

Since 2000, the International Space Station has been continuously occupied by humans. There, crew members live and work while conducting important research that benefits life on Earth and will even help us eventually travel to deep space destinations, like Mars.

2. Smart people are up all night working in control rooms all over NASA to ensure that data keeps flowing from our satellites and spacecraft

Our satellites and spacecraft help scientists study Earth and space. Missions looking toward Earth provide information about clouds, oceans, land and ice. They also measure gases in the atmosphere, such as ozone and carbon dioxide, and the amount of energy that Earth absorbs and emits. And satellites monitor wildfires, volcanoes and their smoke.

Satellites and spacecraft that face toward space have a variety of jobs. Some watch for dangerous rays coming from the sun. Others explore asteroids and comets, the history of stars, and the origin of planets. Some fly near or orbit other planets. These spacecraft may look for evidence of water on Mars or capture close-up pictures of Saturn’s rings.

3. The spacecraft, rockets and systems developed to send astronauts to low-Earth orbit as part of our Commercial Crew Program is also helping us get to Mars

Changes to the human body during long-duration spaceflight are significant challenges to solve ahead of a mission to Mars and back. The space station allows us to perform long duration missions without leaving Earth’s orbit. 

Although they are orbiting Earth, space station astronauts spend months at a time in near-zero gravity, which allows scientists to study several physiological changes and test potential solutions. The more time they spend in space, the more helpful the station crew members can be to those on Earth assembling the plans to go to Mars.

4. Two new science missions will travel where no spacecraft has gone before…a Jupiter Trojan asteroid and a giant metal asteroid!

We’ve selected two missions that have the potential to open new windows on one of the earliest eras in the history of our solar system – a time less than 10 million years after the birth of our sun!

The first mission, Lucy, will visit six of Jupiter’s mysterious Trojan asteroids. The Trojans are thought to be relics of a much earlier era in the history of the solar system, and may have formed far beyond Jupiter’s current orbit.

The second mission, Psyche, will study a unique metal asteroid that’s never been visited before. This giant metal asteroid, known as 16 Psyche, is about three times farther away from the sun than is the Earth. Scientists wonder whether Psyche could be an exposed core of an early planet that could have been as large as Mars, but which lost its rocky outer layers due to a number of violent collisions billions of years ago.

5. Even astronauts eat their VEGGIES’s

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough collected the third and final harvest of the latest round of the Veggie investigation, testing the capability to grow fresh vegetables on the International Space Station. 

Understanding how plants respond to microgravity is an important step for future long-duration space missions, which will require crew members to grow their own food. Crew members have previously grown lettuce and flowers in the Veggie facility. This new series of the study expands on previous validation tests.

6. When you feel far away from home, you can think of the New Horizons spacecraft as it heads toward the Kuiper Belt, and the twin Voyager spacecraft are beyond the influence of our sun…billions of miles away 

Our New Horizons spacecraft completed its Pluto flyby in July 2015 and has continued on its way toward the Kuiper Belt. The spacecraft continues to send back important data as it travels toward deeper space at more than 32,000 miles per hour, and is nearly 3.2 billion miles from Earth.

In addition to New Horizons, our twin Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft are exploring where nothing from Earth has flown before. Continuing on their more-than-37-year journey since their 1977 launches, they are each much farther away from Earth and the sun than Pluto. In August 2012, Voyager 1 made the historic entry into interstellar space, the region between the stars, filled with material ejected by the death of nearby stars millions of years ago.

7. Earth has a magnetic field that largely protects it from the solar wind stripping away out atmosphere…unlike Mars

Findings from our MAVEN mission have identified the process that appears to have played a key role in the transition of the Martian climate from an early, warm and wet environment to the cold, arid planet Mars is today. MAVEN data have enabled researchers to determine the rate at which the Martian atmosphere currently is losing gas to space via stripping by the solar wind. Luckily, Earth has a magnetic field that largely protects it from this process. 

8. There are humans brave enough to not only travel in space, but venture outside the space station to perform important repairs and updates during spacewalks

Spacewalks are important events where crew members repair, maintain and upgrade parts of the International Space Station. These activities can also be referred to as EVAs – Extravehicular Activities. Not only do spacewalks require an enormous amount of work to prepare for, but they are physically demanding on the astronauts. They are working in the vacuum of space in only their spacewalking suit. 

When on a spacewalk, astronauts use safety tethers to stay close to their spacecraft. One end of the tether is hooked to the spacewalker, while the other end is connected to the vehicle. Spacewalks typically last around 6.5 hours, but can be extended to 7 or 8 hours, if necessary.

9. We’re working to create new aircraft that will dramatically reduce fuel use, emissions and noise…meaning we could change the way you fly! 

The nation’s airlines could realize more than $250 billion dollars in savings in the near future thanks to green-related technologies that we are developing and refining. These new technologies could cut airline fuel use in half, pollution by 75% and noise to nearly one-eighth of today’s levels!

10. You can see a global image of your home planet…EVERY DAY

Once a day, we will post at least a dozen new color images of Earth acquired from 12 to 36 hours earlier. These images are taken by our EPIC camera from one million miles away on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR). Take a look HERE.

11. Employees of NASA have always been a mission driven bunch, who try to find answers that were previously unknown

The film “Hidden Figures,” focuses on the stories of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan, African-American women who were essential to the success of early spaceflight. 

Today, we embrace their legacy and strive to include everyone who wants to participate in our ongoing exploration. In the 1960’s, we were on an ambitious journey to the moon, and the human computers portrayed in Hidden Figures helped get us there. Today, we are on an even more ambitious journey to Mars. We are building a vibrant, innovative workforce that reflects a vast diversity of discipline and thought, embracing and nurturing all the talent we have available, regardless of gender, race or other protected status. Take a look at our Modern Figures HERE.

12. A lot of NASA-developed tech has been transferred for use to the public 

Our Technology Transfer Program highlights technologies that were originally designed for our mission needs, but have since been introduced to the public market. HERE are a few spinoff technologies that you might not know about.

13. If all else fails, here’s an image of what we (Earth) and the moon look like from Mars  

From the most powerful telescope orbiting Mars comes a new view of Earth and its moon, showing continent-size detail on the planet and the relative size of the moon. The image combines two separate exposures taken on Nov. 20 by our High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on our Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

In the image, the reddish feature near the middle of the face of Earth is Australia.

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Ancient Mars had a thick atmosphere filled with carbon dioxide that kept it warm. Rivers trickled into lakes across its surface. Some researchers think there might even have been an ocean. It looked a lot like ancient Earth.

But Mars doesn’t have Earth’s magnetic field, and that has made all the difference. Our magnetic field blocks solar wind - the high energy particles emitted by the sun. 

Thanks to new data from the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) we know that this solar wind has been assaulting Mars for centuries, and as a result its atmosphere is constantly leaking into space. 

Read more here!

What happened to Mars?

It’s likely that billions of years ago, Mars had entire oceans on its surface. Conditions were good for life to develop and at the time, it was even a more habitable planet than Earth.

So what happened?

Recently NASA revealed that they’d discovered liquid water still runs in small amounts on Mars, but its no more than an implication of what was and could’ve been. Today Mars is largely a barren planet which seems to be more tomb than home.

NASA’s MAVEN mission, luckily, was able to figure it out.

It turns out, Mars’ atmosphere (what little’s left) is being torn apart by something known as the “solar wind”. This is a stream of charged particles that explode out of the Sun into space. Little by little, these particles are able to rip off bits of Mars’ atmosphere. The rate this happens, as observed by MAVEN, matches up with the general era in which we think Mars’ atmosphere still flourished.

When a planet doesn’t have an atmosphere, the pressure and heat needed to keep water liquid is mostly gone. Some of the water evaporated into the remaining atmosphere (most of which was then stripped away into space) and some froze.

So why did this happen to Mars? Could it happen to Earth?

Yes and no. The reason why it happened to Mars is because it’s such a small planet. Smaller things cool down quicker. I challenge you to go get a large coffee and a small coffee and wait to see which one cools faster.

You see, Mars and Earth both have iron cores. When the planets formed out of molten conglomerates in space, these iron cores were hot, even after the outer crust of the planets cooled against the vacuum of space.

A rapidly spinning, molten iron core (for those physicists among us) already know: this is all you need to generate a magnetic field!

The Sun’s solar wind, as it happens, is subject to magnetism since it’s made up of charged particles. All you need, therefore, to protect yourself from the solar wind, is a magnetic field. The charged particles will be stopped by the field, travel up and down to the planet’s magnetic poles where they’ll discharge in a flash of light known as a borealis:

So there you have it: the Northern Lights killed Mars.

… well not really but it’s all connected in a wonderful, interesting way.

Earth is safe from such a fate so long as we can protect our atmosphere from the solar wind, and even then the stripping away of the atmosphere wouldn’t happen overnight.

(Image credit: NASA)

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Mystery of Mars’ lost atmosphere solved at last, thanks to NASA’s Maven mission

“We also learned that the atmospheric loss was gradual, and took tens-to-hundreds of millions of years, meaning two important things:

1. If there was life on the surface of Mars early on, the atmospheric changes were gradual enough that we have reason to believe it could have evolved to find a suitable niche where it may survive even to the present day.
2. If we decided to terraform Mars by artificially creating a dense atmosphere, it would survive for many millions of years today before we needed to replenish it.”

If you came to the Solar System some 500 million years after its formation, you would’ve found two world with oceans of liquid water, continents and all the conditions we know of for life to begin thriving: Earth and Mars. But unlike our own world, Mars’ organic history was cut short when it lost its atmosphere and became a barren, desert wasteland. Thanks to the Maven mission, we now know how and when this happened!

What Happened to Mars?

Billions of years ago, Mars was a very different world. Liquid water flowed in long rivers that emptied into lakes and shallow seas. A thick atmosphere blanketed the planet and kept it warm.

Today, Mars is bitter cold. The Red Planet’s thin and wispy atmosphere provides scant cover for the surface below.

Our MAVEN Mission

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission is part of our Mars Scout program. This spacecraft launched in November 2013, and is exploring the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind.

The purpose of the MAVEN mission is to determine the state of the upper atmosphere of Mars, the processes that control it and the overall atmospheric loss that is currently occurring. Specifically, MAVEN is exploring the processes through which the top of the Martian atmosphere can be lost to space. Scientists think that this loss could be important in explaining the changes in the climate of Mars that have occurred over the last four billion years.

New Findings

Today, Nov. 5, we will share new details of key science findings from our ongoing exploration of Mars during a news briefing at 2 p.m. EDT. This event will be broadcast live on NASA Television. Have questions? Use #askNASA during the briefing.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com 

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NASA’s MAVEN MISSION GIVES UNPRECEDENTED ULTRAVIOLET VIEW OF MARS

New global images of Mars from the MAVEN mission show the ultraviolet glow from the Martian atmosphere in unprecedented detail, revealing dynamic, previously invisible behavior. They include the first images of “nightglow” that can be used to show how winds circulate at high altitudes. Additionally, dayside ultraviolet imagery from the spacecraft shows how ozone amounts change over the seasons and how afternoon clouds form over giant Martian volcanoes. The images were taken by the Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) on the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission (MAVEN).

“MAVEN obtained hundreds of such images in recent months, giving some of the best high-resolution ultraviolet coverage of Mars ever obtained,” said Nick Schneider of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Schneider is presenting these results at the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Pasadena, California, which is being held jointly with the European Planetary Science Congress.

Nightside images show ultraviolet (UV) “nightglow” emission from nitric oxide (abbreviated NO). Nightglow is a common planetary phenomenon in which the sky faintly glows even in the complete absence of external light. Mars’ nightside atmosphere emits light in the ultraviolet due to chemical reactions that start on Mars’ dayside. Ultraviolet light from the Sun breaks down molecules of carbon dioxide and nitrogen, and the resulting atoms are carried around the planet by high-altitude wind patterns that encircle the planet. On the nightside, these winds bring the atoms down to lower altitudes where nitrogen and oxygen atoms collide to form nitric oxide molecules. The recombination releases extra energy, which comes out as ultraviolet light.

Scientists predicted NO nightglow at Mars, and prior missions detected its presence, but MAVEN has returned the first images of this phenomenon in the Martian atmosphere. Splotches and streaks appearing in these images occur where NO recombination is enhanced by winds. Such concentrations are clear evidence of strong irregularities in Mars’ high altitude winds and circulation patterns. These winds control how Mars’ atmosphere responds to its very strong seasonal cycles. These first images will lead to an improved determination of the circulation patterns that control the behavior of the atmosphere from approximately 37 to 62 miles (about 60 to 100 kilometers) high.

Dayside images show the atmosphere and surface near Mars’ south pole in unprecedented ultraviolet detail. They were obtained as spring comes to the southern hemisphere. Ozone is destroyed when water vapor is present, so ozone accumulates in the winter polar region where the water vapor has frozen out of the atmosphere. The images show ozone lasting into spring, indicating that global winds are inhibiting the spread of water vapor from the rest of the planet into winter polar regions. Wave patterns in the images, revealed by UV absorption from ozone concentrations, are critical to understanding the wind patterns, giving scientists an additional means to study the chemistry and global circulation of the atmosphere.

MAVEN observations also show afternoon cloud formation over the four giant volcanoes on Mars, much as clouds form over mountain ranges on Earth. IUVS images of cloud formation are among the best ever taken showing the development of clouds throughout the day. Clouds are a key to understanding a planet’s energy balance and water vapor inventory, so these observations will be valuable in understanding the daily and seasonal behavior of the atmosphere.

“MAVEN’s elliptical orbit is just right,” said Justin Deighan of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who led the observations. “It rises high enough to take a global picture, but still orbits fast enough to get multiple views as Mars rotates over the course of a day.”

TOP IMAGE….MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph obtained these images of rapid cloud formation on Mars on July 9-10, 2016. The ultraviolet colors of the planet have been rendered in false color, to show what we would see with ultraviolet-sensitive eyes. The series interleaves MAVEN images to show about 7 hours of Mars rotation during this period, just over a quarter of Mars’ day. The left part of the planet is in morning and the right side is in afternoon. Mars’ prominent volcanoes, topped with white clouds, can be seen moving across the disk. Mars’ tallest volcano, Olympus Mons, appears as a prominent dark region near the top of the images, with a small white cloud at the summit that grows during the day. Olympus Mons appears dark because the volcano rises up above much of the hazy atmosphere which makes the rest of the planet appear lighter. Three more volcanoes appear in a diagonal row, with their cloud cover merging to span up to a thousand miles by the end of the day. These images are particularly interesting because they show how rapidly and extensively the clouds topping the volcanoes form in the afternoon. Similar processes occur at Earth, with the flow of winds over mountains creating clouds. Afternoon cloud formation is a common occurrence in the American West, especially during the summer.
Credits: NASA/MAVEN/University of Colorado


CENTRE IMAGE….MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph obtained images of rapid cloud formation on Mars on July 9-10, 2016. The ultraviolet colors of the planet have been rendered in false color, to show what we would see with ultraviolet-sensitive eyes. Mars’ tallest volcano, Olympus Mons, appears as a prominent dark region near the top of the image, with a small white cloud at the summit that grows during the day. Three more volcanoes appear in a diagonal row, with their cloud cover (white areas near center) merging to span up to a thousand miles by the end of the day.
Credits: NASA/MAVEN/University of Colorado


LOWER IMAGE….This image of the Mars night side shows ultraviolet emission from nitric oxide (abbreviated NO). The emission is shown in false color with black as low values, green as medium, and white as high. These emissions track the recombination of atomic nitrogen and oxygen produced on the dayside, and reveal the circulation patterns of the atmosphere. The splotches, streaks and other irregularities in the image are indications that atmospheric patterns are extremely variable on Mars’ nightside. The inset shows the viewing geometry on the planet. MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph obtained this image of Mars on May 4, 2016 during late winter in Mars Southern Hemisphere.
Credits: NASA/MAVEN/University of Colorado


BOTTOM IMAGE….This ultraviolet image near Mars’ South Pole was taken by MAVEN on July 10 2016 and shows the atmosphere and surface during southern spring. The ultraviolet colors of the planet have been rendered in false color, to show what we would see with ultraviolet-sensitive eyes. Darker regions show the planet’s rocky surface and brighter regions are due to clouds, dust and haze. The white region centered on the pole is frozen carbon dioxide (dry ice) on the surface. Pockets of ice are left inside craters as the polar cap recedes in the spring, giving its edge a rough appearance. High concentrations of atmospheric ozone appear magenta in color, and the wavy edge of the enhanced ozone region highlights wind patterns around the pole.
Credits: NASA/MAVEN/University of Colorado

NASA Mission Reveals Speed of Solar Wind Stripping Martian Atmosphere

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission has identified the process that appears to have played a key role in the transition of the Martian climate from an early, warm and wet environment that might have supported surface life to the cold, arid planet Mars is today.

MAVEN data have enabled researchers to determine the rate at which the Martian atmosphere currently is losing gas to space via stripping by the solar wind. The findings reveal that the erosion of Mars’ atmosphere increases significantly during solar storms. The scientific results from the mission appear in the Nov. 5 issues of the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters.

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13 Reasons to Have an Out of this World Friday (the 13th)

1. Know that not all of humanity is bound to the ground

Since 2000, the International Space Station has been continuously occupied by humans. There, crew members live and work while conducting important research that benefits life on Earth.

2. Smart people are up all night working in control rooms all over NASA to ensure that data keeps flowing from our satellites

Our satellites help scientists study Earth and space. Satellites looking toward Earth provide information about clouds, oceans, land and ice. They also measure gases in the atmosphere, such as ozone and carbon dioxide, and the amount of energy that Earth absorbs and emits. And satellites monitor wildfires, volcanoes and their smoke.

Satellites that face toward space have a variety of jobs. Some watch for dangerous rays coming from the sun. Others explore asteroids and comets, the history of stars, and the origin of planets. Some satellites fly near or orbit other planets. These spacecraft may look for evidence of water on Mars or capture close-up pictures of Saturn’s rings.

3. When we are ready to send humans to Mars, they’ll have the most high tech space suits ever made

Our Z-2 Spacesuit is the newest prototype in its next-generation platform, the Z-series. Each iteration of the Z-series will advance new technologies that one day will be used in a suit worn by the first humans to step foot on the red planet.

4. When we need more space in space, it could be just like expanding a big high-tech balloon

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, leverages key innovations in lightweight and compact materials, departing from a traditional rigid metallic structure. Once attached to the International Space Station, the module would result in an additional 565 cubic feet of volume, which is about the size of a large family camping tent.

5. Even astronauts eat their VEGGIE’s

The Vegetable Production System (VEGGIE) is a deployable plant growth unit capable of producing salad-type crops in space. Earlier this year, Expedition 44 crew members, sampled the red romaine lettuce from the VEGGIE plant growth system. This technology will provide future pioneers with a sustainable food supplement during long-duration exploration missions.

6. When you feel far away from home, you can think of the New Horizons spacecraft as it heads toward the Kuiper Belt…billions of miles away

Our New Horizons spacecraft completed its Pluto flyby on July 14, and has continued on its way toward the Kuiper Belt. The spacecraft continues to send back important data as it travels toward deeper space at more than 32,000 miles per hour, and is nearly 3.2 billion miles from Earth.

7. Earth has a magnetic field that largely protects it from the solar wind stripping away our atmosphere…unlike Mars

Recently announced findings from our MAVEN mission have identified the process that appears to have played a key role in the transition of the Martian climate from an early, warm and wet environment to the cold, arid planet Mars is today. MAVEN data have enabled researchers to determine the rate at which the Martian atmosphere currently is losing gas to space via stripping by the solar wind. Luckily, Earth has a magnetic field that largely protects it from this process. 

8. Water bubbles look REALLY cool in space

Astronauts on the International Space Station dissolved an effervescent tablet in a floating ball of water, and captured images using a camera capable of recording four times the resolution of normal high-definition cameras. The higher resolution images and higher frame rate videos can reveal more information when used on science investigations, giving researchers a valuable new tool aboard the space station. This footage is one of the first of its kind.

9. Americans will launch from U.S. soil again with the Commercial Crew Program

Our Commercial Crew Program is working with the American aerospace industry as companies develop and operate a new generation of spacecraft and launch systems capable of carrying crews to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station.

10. You can see a global image of your home planet…EVERY DAY

Once a day, we will post at least a dozen new color images of Earth acquired from 12 to 36 hours earlier. These images are taken by our EPIC camera from one million miles away on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR). Take a look HERE.

11. Over 18,000 people wanted to be astronauts and join us on the journey to Mars

More than 18,300 people applied to join our 2017 astronaut class, almost three times the number of applications received in 2012 for the most recent astronaut class, and far surpassing the previous record of 8,000 in 1978. Among this group are humanities next great explorers!

12. A lot of NASA-developed tech has been transferred for use to the public

Our Technology Transfer Program highlights technologies that were originally designed for our mission needs, but have since been introduced to the public market. HERE are a few spinoff technologies that you might not know about.

13. If all else fails, there’s this image of Psychedelic Pluto

This false color image of Pluto was created using a technique called principal component analysis. This effect highlights the many subtle color differences between Pluto’s distinct regions.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

Solar System: 2015 Year in Review

Two mysterious worlds explored for the first time. Liquid water seen flowing on Mars. A global ocean discovered hiding inside a moon of Saturn. Even during our Era of audacious solar system exploration, 2015 stands out. Here are a few highlights:

1. New Horizons Reveals the Face of Pluto

Whether or not you call it a planet, Pluto entranced the people of Earth when it sent a love note from three billion miles away via our New Horizons spacecraft.

2. Dawn Comes to Ceres

The dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the main asteroid belt, teased explorers with its bizarre bright spots before finally giving up some of its secrets to the Dawn spacecraft. HERE are the latest findings.

3. Cassini Marks Discoveries and Milestones at Enceladus

When the Cassini spacecraft performs its final close flyby of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus on Dec. 19, it will be a true milestone. Scientists using data from Cassini’s instruments have uncovered astounding secrets about this small moon, including (confirmed this year) the fact that its underground ocean of liquid water is global, and is home to hydrothermal vents.

4. We Confirmed Evidence that Liquid Water Flows on Today’s Mars

Findings from our Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provided the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently — on present-day Mars.

5. Rosetta Passes Perihelion

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission had a remarkable year, re-establishing contact with the Philae lander and following comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as it swung near the sun.

6. Mars Explorers Confirm Lakes Once Dotted Mars

A study from the team behind our Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Rover confirmed that Mars was once, billions of years ago, capable of storing water in lakes over an extended period of time.

7. MAVEN Finds a Culprit in the Loss of Mars’ Atmosphere

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission identified the process that appears to have played a key role in the transition of the Martian climate from an early, warm and wet environment that might have supported surface life to the cold, arid planet that Mars is today.

8. Akatsuki Gets a Second Chance at Venus

Five years after a mishap sent the spacecraft off course, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully inserted the Venus Climate Orbiter “Akatsuki” into orbit around Venus. While the mission is not funded by NASA, an agency partnership with JAXA provides an opportunity for eight of our scientists to work with the Akatsuki team and study data from the spacecraft over the next year or so.

9. A Trailblazing Mission Sends Its Final Message from Mercury

After a flight of nearly 11 years, the highly successful MESSENGER mission ended when, as planned, the spacecraft slammed into the surface of Mercury.

10. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Completes 40,000 Orbits

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, at Mars since 2006, has orbited the Red Planet more than 40,000 times. The mission, which studies the whole planet from space, has shown that Mars is diverse and dynamic by way of many thousands of spectacular images and other kinds of data.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

Solar System: 5 Things to Know This Week

Our solar system is huge, so let us break it down for you. Here are 5 things to know this week:

1. Letting the Air Out

The atmosphere on Mars is whisper-thin and drier than bone–but it wasn’t always that way. For the past year, the MAVEN mission has been orbiting the planet, piecing together clues about what happened to all the air on Mars. At 2 p.m. EST on Nov. 5, we will hold a briefing on some new findings about the Martian atmosphere. Make sure to tune in on NASA Television.

2. How Much Juno about Jupiter?

We’re all going to know a lot more about the king of planets soon, thanks to the Juno mission. Juno’s project scientist will be giving a live lecture on Nov. 5 and 6 to explain what discoveries might await and how the spacecraft is expected to survive Jupiter’s dangerous radiation environment for over a year, long enough to make over 30 close polar passes. Watch the live lecture HERE

3. Excitement at Enceladus 

Our Cassini spacecraft has returned stunning images from its ultra-close flyby of Saturn’s active moon Enceladus on Oct. 28. The photos are providing a quick look at Enceladus and its plume of icy vapor from the moon’s geysers. But some of the most exciting science is yet to come, as scientists will be poring over data from Cassini’s instruments to see what they detected as they flew through the plume.

4. A New Dimension in Lunar Landscapes

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter maps the moon in boulder-by-boulder detail daily. The team that operates the spacecraft’s most powerful camera has been releasing 3D versions of its high-resolution looks at the surface. You can see depth and detail in the pictures if you can get or make some red-blue glasses.

5. Pluto in Perspective

The New Horizons spacecraft has fired its engines again as it carries out a series of four maneuvers propelling it toward an encounter with the ancient Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, a billion miles farther from the sun than Pluto. Meanwhile, it continues the ongoing download of data from the Pluto encounter, including this recent stunner. 

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com 

Solar System: 5 Things to Know This Week

Our solar system is huge, so let us break it down for you. Here are 5 things to know this week:

1. It’s Lunacy, Whether by Day or Night

What’s Up in the night sky during November? See all the phases of the moon by day and by night, and learn how to look for the Apollo landing sites. Just after sunset on November 13 and 14, look near the setting sun in the western sky to see the moon as a slender crescent. For more, catch the latest edition of the monthly “What’s Up” Tumblr breakdown.

2. Answer to Longstanding Mars Mystery is Blowin’  in the Wind

What transformed Mars from a warm and wet environment, one that might have supported surface life, to the cold, arid planet it is today? Data from our Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission pins much of the blame on the sun. Streams of charged solar particles crash against the Martian atmosphere, and without much of a magnetic field there to deflect the onslaught, over time the solar wind has stripped the air away.

3. Orbital Maneuvers in the Dark

The New Horizons mission team has set a new record. They recently performed the last in a series of trajectory changes that set the spacecraft on a course for an encounter with a Kuiper Belt object in January 2019. The Kuiper Belt consists of small bodies that orbit the sun a billion miles or more beyond Pluto. These latest course maneuvers were the most distant trajectory corrections ever performed by any spacecraft.

4. Visit Venus (But Not Really — You’d Fry)

Mars isn’t the only available destination. You can visit all the planets, moons and small worlds of the solar system anytime, right from your computer or handheld device. Just peruse our planets page, where you’ll find everything from basic facts about each body to the latest pictures and discoveries. Visit Venus HERE.

5. Titan Then and Now

Nov. 12 marks the 35th anniversary of Voyager 1’s Saturn flyby in 1980. Voyager saw Saturn’s enshrouded, planet-sized moon Titan as a featureless ball. In recent years, the Cassini mission haas revealed Titan in detail as a complex world. The spacecraft has peered beneath its clouds, and even delivered a probe to its encounter, which will include infrared scans, as well as using visible light cameras to look for methane clouds in the atmosphere.

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I found this on the BBC News site, it’s not hard to believe that it might cost NASA more money to conduct a mission to Mars than India but it’s sort of mind boggling that it costs India about 25% less money to do so than it costs to even make a movie about a NASA mission.

I was going to write up a huge angry post about how the launch industry is screwing the taxpayers but… actually the cost of NASA’s MAVEN mission (after researching) isn’t really filled with as much corruption and nepotism as I’d expected. Kind of a warm feeling when I realized this.

You see India’s mission has a few very important differences.

  • Firstly, the orbit of India’s spacecraft is so stretched out that only a few days of each period will be close enough to Mars to photograph great views. The NASA mission is very circular, which means they can constantly conduct science. The cost of the extra fuel needed to get us into that orbit just about doubled the weight of the spacecraft (and thus the cost of launching it)
  • Secondly, it turns out that in India, top notch aerospace engineers make about $1,000 a month. You heard right. They make about $12,000 a year. Holy shit. I assure you NASA engineers make more than that (as in a lot more).
  • Lastly, India’s mission has fewer bells and whistles - by which I mean instruments like spectrometers and solar wind analyzers.

I wouldn’t say India’s mission is in any way a disappointment or “less” than NASA’s. NASA is one of the oldest space agencies on Earth - or off Earth - and do we know what happened to their first orbiter mission to Mars? If you want to find out, go here.

Actually our first successful orbit of Mars wasn’t our first attempt (Mariner 9). It also cost $800,000,000 (when you take inflation into account). So India, a country with less resources than us succeeded on their first try and for less than one tenth what it cost us on our retry. This has worth and I applaud their tremendous success.

MAVEN Spacecraft Returns First Mars Observations
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NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has obtained its first observations of the extended upper atmosphere surrounding Mars.

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