NASA’s Maven and India’s Mangalyaan reach Mars

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

NASA Maven
NASA’s Maven, when it launched last autumn.

NASA’s Maven orbiter spacecraft has reached Mars, to study its climate change. Hot on its heels, India’s Mangalyaan spacecraft accomplished the same feat, making them the first Asian country to do so! While NASA will focus on the atmosphere and geography of Mars, India will be looking for signs of life.

Believe it or not, evidence suggests that Mars was once covered in a thick gas blanket that allowed liquid water to exist on its surface. There’s even markings on the surface that seem to have been made by ancient rivers. Somehow, though, the planet ended up with less than 1% of Earth’s atmospheric pressure, which means water just boils away!

What’s the most likely explanation for why the Martian atmosphere got worn down? Well, it’s missing the sort of protective magnetic field that Earth has, which means the Red Planet can’t really defend itself against the Sun’s damaging solar winds.

NASA’s Maven will fly around what’s left of the atmosphere and take several samples. The orbit will be about as high as 3,864 miles above the planet’s surface, and occasionally drop as low as 78 miles.

“We will also execute a set of operations to dip down into the tenuous upper reaches of the atmosphere to do some direct sampling for approximately a week at a time,” said Guy Beutelschies, the spacecraft operations manager at manufacturer Lockheed Martin. “These are called ‘deep dips’ and we do five of them during the primary mission.”

Images courtesy of NASA.