NASA spacecraft approaches Mars to seek answers to lost water

Sep 23, 2014

By Irene Klotz

 

A NASA spacecraft designed to investigate how Mars lost its water is expected to put itself into orbit around the Red Planet on Sunday after a 10-month journey.

After traveling 442 million miles (711 million km) from Earth, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, probe faces a do-or-die burn of its six braking rockets beginning at 9:37 p.m. EDT.

If successful, the thruster burns will trim enough speed for MAVEN to be captured by Mars’ gravity and fall into a looping orbit.

Over the next six weeks, as engineers check MAVEN’s nine science instruments, the spacecraft will maneuver itself into an operational orbit that comes as close as 93 miles (150 km) and as far away as 3,853 miles (6,200 km) from Mars’ surface.

7 comments on “NASA spacecraft approaches Mars to seek answers to lost water

  • @OP – NASA spacecraft approaches Mars to seek answers to lost water

    This is a poor title! It should say “Lost Atmosphere”!

    @OP link -Denser air would be needed for water to pool on the surface. While no water appears there today, Mars is covered with ancient river channels, lakebeds and chemical evidence of a warmer, wetter past.

    “Where did the water go? Where did the CO2 (carbon dioxide) go from that early environment?” MAVEN lead science Bruce Jakosky, of the University of Colorado, asked reporters this week. “It can go two places: down in the crust or up to the top of the atmosphere where it can be lost to space,” he said.

    MAVEN’s focus is the latter. The spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin, will spend a year monitoring what happens when the solar wind and other charged particles hit the upper layers of Mars’ atmosphere, stripping it away.

    It has been known for a long time that there is water on Mars, but the atmospheric pressure is so low that it sublimes for ice to vapour except in rare places on rare occasions.

    http://www.universetoday.com/33894/phoenix-lander-team-it-rains-at-night-on-mars/
    It snows on Mars. This occurs, at least in the northern arctic region where the Phoenix lander set up camp in 2008. Science teams from Phoenix were able to observe water-ice clouds in the Martian atmosphere and precipitation that fell to the ground at night and sublimate into water in the morning. James Whiteway and his colleagues say that clouds and precipitation on Mars play a role in the exchange of water between the ground and the atmosphere and when conditions are right, snow falls regularly on Mars.

    “Before Phoenix we did not know whether precipitation occurs on Mars,” Whiteway said. “We knew that the polar ice cap advances as far south as the Phoenix site in winter, but we did not know how the water vapor moved from the atmosphere to ice on the ground. Now we know that it does snow, and that this is part of the hydrological cycle on Mars.”



    Report abuse

  • . “It can go two places: down in the crust or up to the top of the atmosphere where it can be lost to space,”

    Alan4Discussion,

    You may be able to answer this, or correct me if I get this wrong. Obviously water on Earth ends up in the ground table but get recycled back again in part (and here is when I am guessing) when you have sufficient volcanic activity to keep it either under pressure and occasionally being erupted back onto the surface. I imagine this is still a fairly low proportion as unless the surface is very volcanic there won’t be that much venting. Oceans will obviously out gas to space on a low gravity planet with a frozen core (no magnetic field to stop solar wind from adding to the atmosphere being stripped). Are they suggesting that given the lack of volcanic activity that water would drain down and presumably freeze and never be vented out again?



    Report abuse

  • Reckless Monkey Sep 23, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    “It can go two places: down in the crust or up to the top of the atmosphere where it can be lost to space,”

    You may be able to answer this, or correct me if I get this wrong. Obviously water on Earth ends up in the ground table but get recycled back again in part (and here is when I am guessing) when you have sufficient volcanic activity to keep it either under pressure and occasionally being erupted back onto the surface.

    On Mars the temperatures are now below the freezing point of water so any lakes or seas will be frozen as rock strata. They will also be covered with dust or dunes from dust storms, except at the poles where there is seasonal fresh H2O and CO2 snow.

    As far as I am aware the only recent signs of liquid water on Mars, is melting ice with high concentrations of salts acting as anti-freeze, on sun-facing crater walls in summer. Ice usually sublimes directly to vapour on Mars, because of the low pressure.



    Report abuse

  • As a side show: –

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-29307123

    India’s maiden mission to Mars, the Mangalyaan, has arrived in orbit after a 300-day marathon covering over 670 million kilometres (420 million miles). Science writer Pallava Bagla traced its journey as it neared the Red Planet.

    On the morning of 24 September, the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) slowed down the spacecraft sufficiently so it could be caught in the orbit of Mars.

    “India will become the first Asian country to have achieved this and if it happens in the maiden attempt itself, India could become the first country in the world to have reached distant Mars on its own steam in the first attempt,” said Isro chairman K Radhakrishnan as it approached.

    Both Russia and the US failed in their maiden attempts. The first Chinese mission to Mars, called Yinghuo-1, failed in 2011 alongside the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission with which it was launched. Earlier in 1998, the Japanese mission to Mars ran out of fuel and was lost.

    Undoubtedly, India – a late starter – is way ahead of its Asian rivals in trying to get to the Red Planet.

    The 4.5bn rupee ($74m; £45m) mission is, as Mr Radhakrishnan says, “the cheapest inter-planetary mission ever to be undertaken by the world”.

    On his visit to India’s rocket port on 30 June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “The [making of the] Hollywood movie Gravity cost more than our Mars mission – this is a great achievement.”

    India’s low-cost and quick turnaround satellite mission has been attracting a lot of global attention from the scientific community that seeks to better understand the mysterious Mars.

    On the morning of 24 September Indian time, Isro re-oriented Mangalyaan and fired its on-board rocket motor for about 24 minutes to slow the spacecraft.



    Report abuse

  • The Indians have provided another route for atmospheric study, in addition to Maven and the earlier probes.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-29357438

    India’s space agency has released its first picture of Mars, taken by its satellite which entered orbit around the Red Planet on Wednesday.

    “The view is nice up here,” tweeted @isro. A handful of images have been sent by the Mangalyaan probe so far.

    Part of its mission is to study the Martian atmosphere for signs of life.

    It is the first time a maiden voyage to Mars has entered orbit successfully and it is the cheapest. Nasa’s current Maven mission cost 10 times more.



    Report abuse

  • As a further development:-

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-29439256

    The space agencies of India and the US have signed an agreement on future co-operation at Mars and at Earth.

    The nations have just put satellites in orbit around the Red Planet, and plan a joint radar spacecraft to study our home world in 2020.

    But the charter signed by Nasa and the Indian Space Research Organisation will also examine additional opportunities.

    The agreement was signed by agencies’ two leaders at the 65th International Astronautical Congress in Toronto.

    India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also known as Mangalyaan, arrived in orbit at Mars on 24 September to image the planet and study its atmosphere.

    It was preceded by the American Maven satellite by two days. the US orbiter will also investigate the Mars’ atmosphere.

    The Toronto charter sets up a working group, which, among its activities, will explore ways for the two Red Planet missions to work together.



    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.