CU-Boulder’s first planetary mission will explore Mar’s upper atmosphere

November 15, 2013

Nov. 15, 2013                                                Bruce Jakosky

History will be made next week when the first NASA planetary mission ever led by the University of Colorado Boulder blasts off to Mars! It’s called MAVEN.

Principal investigator and mission leader, Bruce Jakosky, of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at CU-Boulder, explains.

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CU-Boulder’s first planetary mission will explore Mar’s upper atmosphere

Nov. 15, 2013                                                Bruce Jakosky

History will be made next week when the first NASA planetary mission ever led by the University of Colorado Boulder blasts off to Mars! It’s called MAVEN.Principal investigator and mission leader, Bruce Jakosky, of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at CU-Boulder, explains.

CUT 1  “MAVEN stands for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission.

MAVEN’s goal is to build off of some of the recent measurements that spacecraft’s have made that tell us that there’s been a lot of water on Mars, a very different climate early in its history. (:15) We’re trying to answer the question of what happened to the climate? Where did the water go? Where did the carbon dioxide go from an early atmosphere?”  (:24)

Jakosky says Mars once had a warm, thick atmosphere that could have supported microbial life. But something happened to the red planet’s atmosphere, says Jakosky, turning it into the cold, barren world it is today.

CUT 2 “With Mars having had more water, more carbon dioxide early in its history, there are two places that it can go: It can go down into the crust, the water can percolate down and be lost. It can freeze out in the crust. The carbon dioxide can form carbon-bearing minerals in the crust. (:18)  It can also go up and be lost to space. The top of the atmosphere can be stripped away by the solar wind, or by sunlight.”  (:25)

Equipped with instruments built by CU-Boulder, NASA and the University of California Berkeley, Jakosky says MAVEN will gather data from Mars’ upper atmosphere.

CUT 3 “So what we’re going to do is examine the structure and composition, the energy inputs into the upper atmosphere, the solar wind, the solar ultraviolet-light, and solar energetic particles that come out of major storms on the sun, and see how the atmosphere responds. (:18) The solar wind is a stream of high-velocity particles coming out of the sun. We feel it here on the Earth. It hits the Earth’s environment. It also hits Mars’ environment. And it has the ability to strip gases away from the upper atmosphere.”  (:33)

Jakosky says this is the first mission to explore Mars upper atmosphere. He says it should add one more piece of information to help answer the question that has been puzzling humans for hundreds of years.

CUT 4 “The overriding question for Mars is about the possibility of life on Mars. We’re not a life-detection mission but we’re part of understanding the environment that might be able to support life. (:10) As we’re looking now for life in the universe, we’re interested in what that tells us about us. We are life forms. We’re interacting with our planetary environment. We want to understand- are there any other life forms anywhere? It would be truly amazing if we on Earth were the only life in the universe.”  (:29)

MAVEN will launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida sometime during a 20-day period that begins Nov. 18. The trip to Mars takes 10 months. MAVEN will go into orbit around Mars in Sept. 2014.

-CU-

 

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