First Light at Mars

The Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument obtained these false-color images eight hours after the successful completion of Mars orbit insertion by the spacecraft at 10:24 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 21, after a 10-month journey. Credit: Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado; NASA

The Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument obtained these false-color images eight hours after the successful completion of Mars orbit insertion by the spacecraft at 10:24 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 21, after a 10-month journey. Credit: Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado; NASA

How long does it take for a Mars mission to start sending back data once it’s arrived at the red planet? For MAVEN, it was a matter of hours.

The image above was acquired by the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument, and it shows the first observations of Mars’ upper atmosphere from the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft. The images are in false color, and represent three ultraviolet (UV) wavelength bands. The fourth image (furthest to the right) is a composite of the three bands. The labels indicate what UV light from the Sun is scattered off of (hydrogen gas in the atmosphere, oxygen in the atmosphere, and the planet’s surface).

Hydrogen gas can be seen in the left-most image (in blue), and  extends to altitudes that are thousands of kilometers above the surface. Gravity holds oxygen (second from left, in green) closer to the planet.

NASA has released a video that provides an excellent overview of MAVEN’s first data.


ScienceCasts: First Light for MAVEN. Credit: NASA MAVEN MISSION (YouTube)

During its primary mission, MAVEN will study the loss of hydrogen and oxygen from Mars’ atmosphere. This data will help astrobiolgists understand how ancient Mars’ transitioned from being a potentially habitable planet to the dry desert world we see today.

If you’re interested in more details about MAVEN’s first results at Mars, NASA will be hosting a news teleconference at 11 a.m. PDT (2 p.m. EDT) today (Oct. 14, 2014). Members of the mission team will announce early science results, and the audio will be streamed live at: http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio

Visuals will be posted at the start of the event at: http://www.nasa.gov/maven

Teleconference participants include:

  • Elsayed Talaat, MAVEN program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington
  • Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU-Boulder)
  • Mike Chaffin, Remote Sensing Team member at CU-Boulder
  • Justin Deighan, Remote Sensing Team member at CU-Boulder
  • Davin Larson, Solar Energetic Particles instrument lead at the University of California, Berkeley

For details about the teleconference, visit: http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/news/display.cfm?News_ID=48246

For more information about the mission, visit NASA’s MAVEN site at: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/maven