NASA, the University of Colorado Boulder and other scientific institutions are collaborating to send another probe to Mars. This time the researchers are trying to find out what happened to the red planet’s water supply.
MAVEN, or the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission, will examine the upper atmosphere of Mars to inform scientists about its history of climate change. It will launch from Cape Canaveral on Nov. 18.
This will be the first probe sent to Mars by NASA that specifically focuses on atmospheric analysis. Past missions looked at the surface of the planet and discovered evidence of a geography carved out by water.
“But it’s not there now,” said Chris Fowler, a research assistant at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. “No one sees it, so people are trying to find out where all the water went: either up into space, or down into the ground.”
In order to find out, instruments from CU Boulder’s LASP will transmit data on atmospheric conditions at several distances above the surface of Mars back to Earth.
Fowler will be among many student-researchers responsible for calibrating data coming in from their instrument, the Langmuir Probe, which will measure the electric fields sometimes responsible for pushing air particles into space.
Some CU students like senior economics major Nick Biehl, 21, have heard about the project and are excited about its impact.
“It sounds like a progressive move by CU, like we’re thinking about our children’s future and the progression of the human race,” Biehl said.
LASP Associate Professor Nick Schneider led a separate instrumental development effort called the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph, that’s main goal is to figure out how easily the sun allows water to escape from Mars’s atmosphere. The device will photograph Mars’ atmosphere up close, detecting the chemical emission of the air particles and then determining exactly what elements are present.
Both Schneider and Fowler are eager to see the instruments that they worked on at LASP launch with the MAVEN probe.
“The University of Colorado is a space faring university,” Schneider said. “NASA chooses us to build these spacecrafts and we involve students all along the way.”
In its one-year primary mission, the probe will travel over most of Mars’ latitudes, orbiting at heights of over 3,800 miles and will execute five “deep-dip” maneuvers, descending as low as 78 miles above the surface to analyze air at low altitudes.
MAVEN is scheduled to arrive at Mars Sept. 2014.
The spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin and instruments were developed by The University of California Berkeley and CU Boulder, which were winners in the competition for spots on the spacecraft.
“It’s great to know you’re part of a really big team who’ve all come together to send something up there,” Fowler said. “Particularly when it’s doing something that nothing else has looked at yet, focusing on the atmosphere. We could potentially get some really great results.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Gabriel Larsen-Santos at Gabriel.email@example.com.