Astrobiology Top 10: Mars' New Arrivals

As 2014 comes to a close, Astrobiology Magazine is counting down the ‘Top 10’ stories of the past year. Curiosity wasn’t the only robotic explorer making headlines this year at the red planet. At number 3 on our list, we highlight the arrival of new missions at Mars with the NASA Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) orbiter and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) orbiter. Humankind’s team of robotic Mars explorers continues to grow, ensuring that the red planet will continue to make big news in astrobiology.

First Light at Mars was originally published on October 14, 2014.

Mom Arrives at Mars was originally published on September 24, 2014.

For additional information about MAVEN, check out this series of stories by Sheyna E. Gifford leading up to the orbiter’s arrival at Mars:

First Light at Mars
By: Aaron L. Gronstal

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


MOM Arrives at Mars

By: Aaron L. Gronstal

Primary deployment test of the three-fold solar panel. Credit: ISRO

Primary deployment test of the three-fold solar panel. Credit: ISRO

This week has been a busy time for robotic explorers at Mars. NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft successfully entered orbit on Sunday, September 21. Days later, a second new Mars mission has now reached the red planet.

India has become the fourth nation to successfully deliver a spacecraft to Mars. The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is the country’s first interplanetary mission and is primarily focused on proving technological capabilities for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

On the science front, MOM will collect data about martian surface features, morphology and mineralogy. The spacecraft will also search for signs of methane gas in the atmosphere.

MOM’s payload includes:

Lyman Alpha Photometer (LAP): measures the ratio of deuterium and hydrogen in the upper atmosphere of Mars, helping scientists understand the loss of water from the planet.

Artist representation of the MOM spacecraft. Credit: ISRO

Artist representation of the MOM spacecraft. Credit: ISRO

Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM): measures methane in the martian atmosphere and maps its sources.

Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser (MENCA): a quadruple mass spectrometer that has its heritage in the Altitudinal Composition Explorer (CHACE) payload on a previous ISRO mission to the Moon, Chandrayaan.

Mars Color Camera (MCC): a tri-color camera that will provide data on the composition of the martian surface. MCC will also spend time capturing images of Mars’ moons Phobos and Deimos.

Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (TIS): will measure thermal emissions from Mars during both day and night, allowing scientists to map the surface composition and mineralogy of Mars.

MOM joins six active missions at Mars including the MAVEN orbiter, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Express, Mars Odyssey, the Opportunity rover and the Curiosity rover. Together, this team of robotic explorers are providing valuable information about Mars’ present environment, and clues as to whether or not the planet supported habitats in its history where life could have survived.


 


A special documentary film on Mars Orbiter Mission. Credit: Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (YouTube)