Wednesday 20 November 2013

NASA launches Mars probe.

The MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) Mars probe was launched successfully from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 1.28 pm EST (6.28 pm GMT) on Monday 18 November 2013. The NASA probe has now deployed its solar panels and is orientating itself for its 10 month journey to Mars, which it should reach around 22 September 2014. The probe will follow a simple ballistic trajectory, reaching the Red Planet when it is in alignment with (at its closest to) Earth.

The path of the MAVEN probe to Mars. NASA/LASP/JPL.

Once in orbit around Mars, MAVEN will perform a number of dips into the planet's upper atmosphere, enabling it to examine it's composition (it has previously only been possible to study the composition of the lower atmosphere, using landers) as well as levels of solar radiation and loss of atmospheric gasses into space. This is of particular interest, as evidence gathered by recent Mars missions heavily implies that there was once liquid water on the planet, something which would be impossible at today's atmospheric density.

An artists impression of the MAVEN probe in orbit around Mars. NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Colorado at Boulder/Lockheed Martin/University of California – Berkeley/Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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