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  • richardmitnick 10:02 am on October 23, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA MARS MAVEN, NASA’s MAVEN Mission Observes Ups and Downs of Water Escape from Mars   

    From astrobio.net: “NASA’s MAVEN Mission Observes Ups and Downs of Water Escape from Mars” 

    Astrobiology Magazine

    Astrobiology Magazine

    Oct 22, 2016
    No writer credit found

    1
    NASA

    After investigating the upper atmosphere of the Red Planet for a full Martian year, NASA’s MAVEN mission has determined that the escaping water does not always go gently into space.

    Sophisticated measurements made by a suite of instruments on the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, spacecraft revealed the ups and downs of hydrogen escape – and therefore water loss. The escape rate peaked when Mars was at its closest point to the sun and dropped off when the planet was farthest from the sun. The rate of loss varied dramatically overall, with 10 times more hydrogen escaping at the maximum.

    “MAVEN is giving us unprecedented detail about hydrogen escape from the upper atmosphere of Mars, and this is crucial for helping us figure out the total amount of water lost over billions of years,” said Ali Rahmati, a MAVEN team member at the University of California at Berkeley who analyzed data from two of the spacecraft’s instruments.

    Hydrogen in Mars’ upper atmosphere comes from water vapor in the lower atmosphere. An atmospheric water molecule can be broken apart by sunlight, releasing the two hydrogen atoms from the oxygen atom that they had been bound to. Several processes at work in Mars’ upper atmosphere may then act on the hydrogen, leading to its escape.

    This loss had long been assumed to be more-or-less constant, like a slow leak in a tire. But previous observations made using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and ESA’s Mars Express orbiter found unexpected fluctuations. Only a handful of these measurements have been made so far, and most were essentially snapshots, taken months or years apart. MAVEN has been tracking the hydrogen escape without interruption over the course of a Martian year, which lasts nearly two Earth years.

    2
    This image shows atomic hydrogen scattering sunlight in the upper atmosphere of Mars, as seen by the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph on NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission. About 400,000 observations, taken over the course of four days shortly after the spacecraft entered orbit around Mars, were used to create the image. Hydrogen is produced by the breakdown of water, which was once abundant on Mars’ surface. Because hydrogen has low atomic mass and is weakly bound by gravity, it extends far from the planet (the darkened circle) and can readily escape. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Colorado

    “Now that we know such large changes occur, we think of hydrogen escape from Mars less as a slow and steady leak and more as an episodic flow – rising and falling with season and perhaps punctuated by strong bursts,” said Michael Chaffin, a scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder who is on the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) team. Chaffin is presenting some IUVS results on Oct. 19 at the joint meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences and the European Planetary Science Congress in Pasadena, California.

    In the most detailed observations of hydrogen loss to date, four of MAVEN’s instruments detected the factor-of-10 change in the rate of escape. Changes in the density of hydrogen in the upper atmosphere were inferred from the flux of hydrogen ions – electrically charged hydrogen atoms – measured by the Solar Wind Ion Analyzer and by the Suprathermal and Thermal Ion Composition instrument. IUVS observed a drop in the amount of sunlight scattered by hydrogen in the upper atmosphere. MAVEN’s magnetometer found a decrease in the occurrence of electromagnetic waves excited by hydrogen ions, indicating a decrease in the amount of hydrogen present.

    By investigating hydrogen escape in multiple ways, the MAVEN team will be able to work out which factors drive the escape. Scientists already know that Mars’ elliptical orbit causes the intensity of the sunlight reaching Mars to vary by 40 percent during a Martian year. There also is a seasonal effect that controls how much water vapor is present in the lower atmosphere, as well as variations in how much water makes it into the upper atmosphere. The 11-year cycle of the sun’s activity is another likely factor.

    “In addition, when Mars is closest to the sun, the atmosphere becomes turbulent, resulting in global dust storms and other activity. This could allow the water in the lower atmosphere to rise to very high altitudes, providing an intermittent source of hydrogen that can then escape,” said John Clarke, a Boston University scientist on the IUVS team. Clarke will present IUVS measurements of hydrogen and deuterium – a form of hydrogen that contains a neutron and is heavier – on Oct. 19 at the planetary conference.

    By making observations for a second Mars year and during different parts of the solar cycle, the scientists will be better able to distinguish among these effects. MAVEN is continuing these observations in its extended mission, which has been approved until at least September 2018.

    “MAVEN’s findings reveal what is happening in Mars’ atmosphere now, but over time this type of loss contributed to the global change from a wetter environment to the dry planet we see today,” said Rahmati.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:48 am on October 18, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , NASA MARS MAVEN, NASA's MAVEN Mission Gives Unprecedented Ultraviolet View of Mars   

    From Goddard: “NASA’s MAVEN Mission Gives Unprecedented Ultraviolet View of Mars” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Oct. 17, 2016
    Nancy Jones
    nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov

    Bill Steigerwald
    william.a.steigerwald@nasa.gov

    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
    301-286-0039 / x-5017

    New global images of Mars from the MAVEN mission show the ultraviolet glow from the Martian atmosphere in unprecedented detail, revealing dynamic, previously invisible behavior. They include the first images of “nightglow” that can be used to show how winds circulate at high altitudes. Additionally, dayside ultraviolet imagery from the spacecraft shows how ozone amounts change over the seasons and how afternoon clouds form over giant Martian volcanoes. The images were taken by the Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) on the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission (MAVEN).

    NASA/Mars MAVEN
    NASA/Mars MAVEN


    Access mp4 video here .
    Images from MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph were used to make this movie of rapid cloud formation on Mars on July 9-10, 2016. The ultraviolet colors of the planet have been rendered in false color, to show what we would see with ultraviolet-sensitive eyes. The movie uses four MAVEN images to show about 7 hours of Mars rotation during this period, and interleaves simulated views that would be seen between the four images. Mars’ day is similar to Earth’s, so the movie shows just over a quarter day. The left part of the planet is in morning and the right side in afternoon. Mars’ prominent volcanoes, topped with white clouds, can be seen moving across the disk. Mars’ tallest volcano, Olympus Mons, appears as a prominent dark region near the top of the images, with a small white cloud at the summit that grows during the day. Olympus Mons appears dark because the volcano rises up above much of the hazy atmosphere which makes the rest of the planet appear lighter. Three more volcanoes appear in a diagonal row, with their cloud cover merging to span up to a thousand miles by the end of the day. These images are particularly interesting because they show how rapidly and extensively the clouds topping the volcanoes form in the afternoon. Similar processes occur at Earth, with the flow of winds over mountains creating clouds. Afternoon cloud formation is a common occurrence in the American West, especially during the summer. Credits: NASA/MAVEN/University of Colorado

    “MAVEN obtained hundreds of such images in recent months, giving some of the best high-resolution ultraviolet coverage of Mars ever obtained,” said Nick Schneider of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Schneider is presenting these results Oct. 19 at the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Pasadena, California, which is being held jointly with the European Planetary Science Congress.

    Nightside images show ultraviolet (UV) “nightglow” emission from nitric oxide (abbreviated NO). Nightglow is a common planetary phenomenon in which the sky faintly glows even in the complete absence of external light. Mars’ nightside atmosphere emits light in the ultraviolet due to chemical reactions that start on Mars’ dayside. Ultraviolet light from the sun breaks down molecules of carbon dioxide and nitrogen, and the resulting atoms are carried around the planet by high-altitude wind patterns that encircle the planet. On the nightside, these winds bring the atoms down to lower altitudes where nitrogen and oxygen atoms collide to form nitric oxide molecules. The recombination releases extra energy, which comes out as ultraviolet light.

    1
    This image of the Mars night side shows ultraviolet emission from nitric oxide (abbreviated NO). The emission is shown in false color with black as low values, green as medium, and white as high. These emissions track the recombination of atomic nitrogen and oxygen produced on the dayside, and reveal the circulation patterns of the atmosphere. The splotches, streaks and other irregularities in the image are indications that atmospheric patterns are extremely variable on Mars’ nightside. The inset shows the viewing geometry on the planet. MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph obtained this image of Mars on May 4, 2016 during late winter in Mars Southern Hemisphere. Credits: NASA/MAVEN/University of Colorado.

    Scientists predicted NO nightglow at Mars, and prior missions detected its presence, but MAVEN has returned the first images of this phenomenon in the Martian atmosphere. Splotches and streaks appearing in these images occur where NO recombination is enhanced by winds. Such concentrations are clear evidence of strong irregularities in Mars’ high altitude winds and circulation patterns. These winds control how Mars’ atmosphere responds to its very strong seasonal cycles. These first images will lead to an improved determination of the circulation patterns that control the behavior of the atmosphere from approximately 37 to 62 miles (about 60 to 100 kilometers) high.

    Dayside images show the atmosphere and surface near Mars’ south pole in unprecedented ultraviolet detail. They were obtained as spring comes to the southern hemisphere. Ozone is destroyed when water vapor is present, so ozone accumulates in the winter polar region where the water vapor has frozen out of the atmosphere. The images show ozone lasting into spring, indicating that global winds are inhibiting the spread of water vapor from the rest of the planet into winter polar regions. Wave patterns in the images, revealed by UV absorption from ozone concentrations, are critical to understanding the wind patterns, giving scientists an additional means to study the chemistry and global circulation of the atmosphere.

    2
    This ultraviolet image near Mars’ South Pole was taken by MAVEN on July 10 2016 and shows the atmosphere and surface during southern spring. The ultraviolet colors of the planet have been rendered in false color, to show what we would see with ultraviolet-sensitive eyes. Darker regions show the planet’s rocky surface and brighter regions are due to clouds, dust and haze. The white region centered on the pole is frozen carbon dioxide (dry ice) on the surface. Pockets of ice are left inside craters as the polar cap recedes in the spring, giving its edge a rough appearance. High concentrations of atmospheric ozone appear magenta in color, and the wavy edge of the enhanced ozone region highlights wind patterns around the pole. Credits: NASA/MAVEN/University of Colorado.

    MAVEN observations also show afternoon cloud formation over the four giant volcanoes on Mars, much as clouds form over mountain ranges on Earth. IUVS images of cloud formation are among the best ever taken showing the development of clouds throughout the day. Clouds are a key to understanding a planet’s energy balance and water vapor inventory, so these observations will be valuable in understanding the daily and seasonal behavior of the atmosphere.

    3
    MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph obtained these images of rapid cloud formation on Mars on July 9-10, 2016. The ultraviolet colors of the planet have been rendered in false color, to show what we would see with ultraviolet-sensitive eyes. The series interleaves MAVEN images to show about 7 hours of Mars rotation during this period, just over a quarter of Mars’ day. The left part of the planet is in morning and the right side is in afternoon. Mars’ prominent volcanoes, topped with white clouds, can be seen moving across the disk. Mars’ tallest volcano, Olympus Mons, appears as a prominent dark region near the top of the images, with a small white cloud at the summit that grows during the day. Olympus Mons appears dark because the volcano rises up above much of the hazy atmosphere which makes the rest of the planet appear lighter. Three more volcanoes appear in a diagonal row, with their cloud cover merging to span up to a thousand miles by the end of the day. These images are particularly interesting because they show how rapidly and extensively the clouds topping the volcanoes form in the afternoon. Similar processes occur at Earth, with the flow of winds over mountains creating clouds. Afternoon cloud formation is a common occurrence in the American West, especially during the summer. Credits: NASA/MAVEN/University of Colorado.

    “MAVEN’s elliptical orbit is just right,” said Justin Deighan of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who led the observations. “It rises high enough to take a global picture, but still orbits fast enough to get multiple views as Mars rotates over the course of a day.”

    4
    MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph obtained images of rapid cloud formation on Mars on July 9-10, 2016. The ultraviolet colors of the planet have been rendered in false color, to show what we would see with ultraviolet-sensitive eyes. Mars’ tallest volcano, Olympus Mons, appears as a prominent dark region near the top of the image, with a small white cloud at the summit that grows during the day. Three more volcanoes appear in a diagonal row, with their cloud cover (white areas near center) merging to span up to a thousand miles by the end of the day. Credits: NASA/MAVEN/University of Colorado.

    MAVEN’s principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, Boulder. The university provided two science instruments and leads science operations, as well as education and public outreach, for the mission. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the MAVEN project and provided two science instruments for the mission. The University of California at Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory also provided four science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, provides navigation and Deep Space Network support, as well as the Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.

    See the full article here .

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    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.
    NASA Goddard campus
    NASA/Goddard Campus
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  • richardmitnick 2:44 pm on February 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA MARS MAVEN,   

    From SSL: “MAVEN Instruments Study the Solar Wind at Mars” 

    SSL UC Berkeley

    Space Science Lab, UC Berkeley

    February 20, 2016
    Christopher Scholz

    The ‪MAVEN‬ spacecraft is equipped with several instruments devoted to measuring the solar wind and how solar energetic particles and extreme ultraviolet irradiance interact with Mars’ upper atmosphere.

    Solar Wind Electron Analyzer (SWEA)-The Solar Wind Electron Analyzer (SWEA) is a part of the Particles and Fields (P&F) Package and will measure the solar wind and ionospheric electrons.

    Goals:

    Deduce magneto-plasma topology in and above the Martian ionosphere based on electron spectra and pitch angle distributions
    Measure atmospheric electron impact ionization effects

    Observations:

    Measure energy and angle distributions of electrons in the Mars environment
    Determine magnetic topology from pitch angle distributions
    Measure solar wind, sheath and primary ionospheric photoelectron spectrum
    Determine electron impact ionization rates
    Measure auroral electron populations
    Evaluate plasma environment

    Technical details and heritage:

    Hemispherical Electrostatic Analyzer with deflectors
    Electrons with energies from 5 eV to 4.6 keV
    FOV 360o x 120o (Azimuth x Elevation)
    Angular resolution 22.5o in azimuth x 20o in elevation
    Energy fluxes 103 to 109 eV/cm2-s-ster-eV
    Energy resolution: ΔE/E = 17%, FWHM (capability for 9% below 50 eV)
    Time resolution: 2 sec
    Mounted at end of 1.5-meter boom
    Heritage from STEREO SWEA

    Solar Wind Ion Analyzer (SWIA)-The Solar Wind Ion Analyzer (SWIA) is a part of the Particles and Fields (P&F) Package and measures the solar wind and magnetosheath proton flow around Mars and constrains the nature of solar wind interactions with the upper atmosphere.

    Goals:

    Determine the ionization rates of neutrals from charge exchange, as an input to atmospheric loss processes
    Determine the pickup acceleration of newly formed ions by the v x B electric field
    Measure the flow of solar wind energy through the Martian magnetosphere
    Measure the structure and variability of the Martian magnetosphere
    Measure basic space plasma phenomena, including reconnection, flux ropes, plasmoids, bulk plasma escape, auroral processes, and boundary instabilities, throughout the Martian system

    Observations:

    Measure the properties of solar wind and magnetosheath ions, including density, temperature, and velocity, in order to determine the energy input to the upper atmosphere, the charge exchange rate, and the bulk plasma flow from solar wind speeds (~350 to ~1000 km/s) down to stagnating magnetosheath speeds (tens of km/s)

    Technical details and heritage:

    Coarse 3d covers 360°x90° with 22.5° resolution and energies 5 eV/q – 25 keV/q
    Fine 3d covers solar wind beam w/ 4.5° resolution and 10% energy windows
    Intrinsic time resolution of 4 s
    Mechanical attenuator provides variable dynamic range to cover from tenuous magnetosphere up to extreme solar wind fluxes [5×104 to 7×1011 eV/(cm2 s sr eV)]
    Heritage from Wind, FAST, and THEMIS

    Suprathermal and Thermal Ion Composition (STATIC)-The Suprathermal and Thermal Ion Composition (STATIC) instrument is part of the Particles and Fields (P&F) Package and measures thermal ions to moderate energy escaping ions.

    Goals:

    Measure the source ion populations near periapsis, the heated ionospheric ions at intermediate altitudes that achieve escape velocity, and the pickup acceleration of these ions in the magnetosheath and solar wind
    Allow direct measurements of the Martian sheath plasma, separating shocked solar wind and planetary ions that populate the sheath and plasma sheet

    Observations:

    Escaping ions and processes
    Composition of thermal to energetic ions; energy distributions and pitch angle variations
    Ionospheric Ions 0.1-10 eV
    Tail Superthermal ions (5-100eV)
    Pick-up Ions (100-20,000 eV)
    Key ions H+, O+, O2+, CO2+

    Technical details and heritage:

    Toroidal Electrostatic Analyzer with Time of Flight section
    Mass Range 1-70 AMU, ΔM/M > 4
    Energy range ~0.1 eV to 30 keV, ΔE/E~15%
    FOV 360o X 90o
    Angular Resolution 22.5o x 6o
    Energy Flux < 104 to 109 eV/cm2-s-sr-eV (to 1012 w/attenuators for low energy beam)
    Can be oriented to measure either upwelling/downwelling or horizontal flows
    Heritage from Cluster CODIF

    Solar Energetic Particle (SEP)-The Solar Energetic Particle (SEP) instrument is part of the Particles and Fields (P&F) Package and determines the impact of SEPs on the upper atmosphere.

    Goals:

    Determine SEP input into the atmosphere as a function of altitude
    Determine SEP heating, ionization, and sputtering of upper atmosphere
    Detect the highest energy pickup ions (>30 to 100s of keV)

    Observations:

    Characterize solar particles in an energy range that affects upper atmosphere and ionospheric processes (~120 – 200 km)
    Time resolution adequate to capture major SEP events (<1 hour)

    Technical details and heritage:

    Two dual double-ended telescopes
    Four look directions per species, optimized for parallel and perpendicular Parker Spiral viewing
    Protons and heavier ions from ~25 keV to 12 MeV
    Electrons from ~25 keV to 1 MeV
    Energy fluxes 10 to 106 eV/cm2-sec-ster-eV
    Better than 50% energy resolution
    Heritage from (nearly identical to) SST on THEMIS

    Langmuir Probe and Waves (LPW)Langmuir Probe and Waves (LPW)-The Langmuir Probe and Waves (LPW) instrument is part of the Particles and Fields (P&F) Package and determines ionospheric properties, wave heating of the upper atmosphere, and solar EUV input to the atmosphere.

    Goals:

    Measure the in situ electron density and electron temperature from the ionospheric peak up to the nominal ionopause location. It will also measure the electric field wave power important for ion heating
    Characterize the basic state of the ionosphere—its global structure, variability, and thermal properties
    Determine the effects of solar wind generated plasma waves and auroral precipitation on ionosphere heating and relationship to plasma escape
    Determine the electron temperatures required for deriving ion recombination rates and ionospheric chemistry
    Identify the ionopause and detached, escaping ionosphere clouds

    Observations:

    Electron temperature and number density throughout upper atmosphere
    Electric field wave power at low frequencies important for ion heating
    Wave spectra of naturally emitted and actively stimulated Langmuir waves to calibrate density measurements

    Technical details and heritage:

    Cylindrical sensors on two 7-meter booms
    Sensor I-V sweeps (at least ±50 V range)
    Low frequency (f: 0.05-10 Hz) E-field power; sensitivity 10-8 (V/m)2/Hz (f0/f)2 where fo=10 Hz and 100% bandwidth
    E-Spectra measurements up to 2 MHz
    White noise (50 kHz – 2 MHz ) sounding
    Thermal Electron density 100 to 106 cm-3
    Electron temperatures 500 to 5000oK
    Heritage from THEMIS and RBSP

    Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) Monitor-The Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) monitor is part of the Langmuir Probe and Waves (LPW) instrument and measures solar EUV input and variability, and wave heating of the Martian upper atmosphere.

    Goals:

    Measure solar emissions from different regions of the Sun in three distinct EUV bands
    Three channels will provide a complete EUV spectrum (0.1-190 nm) to serve as a proxy for input to the Flare Irradiance Spectral Model (FISM) model

    Observations:

    Solar EUV irradiance variability at wavelengths important for ionization, dissociation, and heating of the upper atmosphere (wavelengths shortward of HI Ly-α 121.6 nm)

    Technical details and heritage:

    Three photometers at key wavelengths representing different temperature solar emissions (0.1-7, 17-22, and 121.6 nm)
    Full spectrum (0-200 nm) derived from measurements using Flare Irradiance Spectral Model (FISM)
    Heritage from TIMED, SORCE, SDO, and rocket instruments

    Magnetometer (MAG)-The Magnetometer (MAG) is a part of the Particles and Fields (P&F) Package and measures interplanetary solar wind and ionospheric magnetic fields.

    Goals:

    Measure vector magnetic field
    Characterize solar wind interaction
    Support particles and fields package (ions, electrons, energetic particles & waves)

    Observations:

    Vector magnetic field in the unperturbed solar wind (B ~ 3 nT), magnetosheath (B ~ 10-50 nT), and crustal magnetospheres (B < 3000 nT), with the ability to spatially resolve crustal magnetic cusps (horizontal length scales of ~100 km)

    Technical details and heritage:

    Two sensors, outboard of solar array
    Magnetic field over a dynamic range of ~60,000 nT; resolution 0.05 nT
    32 samples/sec intrinsic sample rate averaged and decimated as necessary
    Sensor scale factor accuracy of 0.05%
    Heritage from MGS, Voyager, AMPTE, GIOTTO, CLUSTER, Lunar Prospector, MESSENGER , STEREO, Juno, and Van Allen Probes

    NASA MAVEN
    NASA/Mars MAVEN

    These experiments have been specifically designed to determine whether space weather events increase atmospheric escape rates to historically important levels.

    In analyzing data from these instruments, MAVEN scientists will take three approaches to derive the history of Mars’ atmosphere:

    1. Use ratios of stable isotopes to determine the integrated loss to space
    2. Use observed changes in escape in response to changing energetic inputs to directly extrapolate back in time
    3. Model escape processes using current conditions and extrapolate models back in time

    Taking these approaches enables our team scientists to determine how various space weather events affect the upper atmosphere of Mars today and how they have contributed to its evolution over time. Capturing events of different magnitudes becomes more likely over time and contributes to producing more accurate model extrapolations back in time.

    MAVEN data is allowing scientists to:

    Investigate atmospheric escape response to regular solar wind variations and to major events (solar flares, coronal mass ejections)
    Update an estimate of solar wind evolution
    Determine how solar energetic particles contribute to escape, and
    Estimate integrated historical loss to space

    NASA Goddard

    For images, fuller descriptions, publications, see the original SSL article.

    See the full article here .

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    SSL UC Berkeley campus

     
  • richardmitnick 1:55 pm on March 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA MARS MAVEN   

    From NASA Goddard: “NASA Spacecraft Detects Aurora and Mysterious Dust Cloud around Mars” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    Goddard Space Flight Center

    March 18, 2015
    Dwayne Brown
    Headquarters, Washington
    dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov
    202-358-1726

    Nancy Neal-Jones
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
    nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov
    301-286-0039

    Bill Steigerwald
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
    william.a.steigerwald@nasa.gov
    301-286-5017

    Jim Scott
    University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado
    jim.scott@colorado.edu

    1
    Artist’s conception of MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) observing the “Christmas Lights Aurora” on Mars. MAVEN observations show that aurora on Mars is similar to Earth’s “Northern Lights” but has a different origin. Image Credit: University of Colorado

    NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has observed two unexpected phenomena in the Martian atmosphere: an unexplained high-altitude dust cloud and aurora that reaches deep into the Martian atmosphere.

    The presence of the dust at orbital altitudes from about 93 miles (150 kilometers) to 190 miles (300 kilometers) above the surface was not predicted. Although the source and composition of the dust are unknown, there is no hazard to MAVEN and other spacecraft orbiting Mars.

    “If the dust originates from the atmosphere, this suggests we are missing some fundamental process in the Martian atmosphere,” said Laila Andersson of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospherics and Space Physics (CU LASP), Boulder, Colorado.

    The cloud was detected by the spacecraft’s Langmuir Probe and Waves (LPW) instrument, and has been present the whole time MAVEN has been in operation. It is unknown if the cloud is a temporary phenomenon or something long lasting. The cloud density is greatest at lower altitudes. However, even in the densest areas it is still very thin. So far, no indication of its presence has been seen in observations from any of the other MAVEN instruments.

    Possible sources for the observed dust include dust wafted up from the atmosphere; dust coming from Phobos and Deimos, the two moons of Mars; dust moving in the solar wind away from the sun; or debris orbiting the sun from comets. However, no known process on Mars can explain the appearance of dust in the observed locations from any of these sources.

    2
    A map of IUVS’s auroral detections in December 2014 overlaid on Mars’ surface. The map shows that the aurora was widespread in the northern hemisphere, not tied to any geographic location. The aurora was detected in all observations during a 5-day period. Image Credit: University of Colorado

    MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) observed what scientists have named “Christmas lights.” For five days just before Dec. 25, MAVEN saw a bright ultraviolet auroral glow spanning Mars’ northern hemisphere. Aurora, known on Earth as northern or southern lights, are caused by energetic particles like electrons crashing down into the atmosphere and causing the gas to glow.

    “What’s especially surprising about the aurora we saw is how deep in the atmosphere it occurs – much deeper than at Earth or elsewhere on Mars,” said Arnaud Stiepen, IUVS team member at the University of Colorado. “The electrons producing it must be really energetic.”

    The source of the energetic particles appears to be the sun. MAVEN’s Solar Energetic Particle instrument detected a huge surge in energetic electrons at the onset of the aurora. Billions of years ago, Mars lost a global protective magnetic field like Earth has, so solar particles can directly strike the atmosphere. The electrons producing the aurora have about 100 times more energy than you get from a spark of house current, so they can penetrate deeply in the atmosphere.

    The findings are being presented at the 46th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.

    MAVEN was launched to Mars on Nov. 18, 2013, to help solve the mystery of how the Red Planet lost most of its atmosphere and much of its water. The spacecraft arrived at Mars on Sept. 21, and is four months into its one-Earth-year primary mission.

    “The MAVEN science instruments all are performing nominally, and the data coming out of the mission are excellent,” said Bruce Jakosky of CU LASP, Principal Investigator for the mission.

    MAVEN is part of the agency’s Mars Exploration Program, which includes the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers, the Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft currently orbiting the planet.

    NASA Mars Opportunity Rover
    Opportunity

    NASA Mars Curiosity Rover
    Curiosity

    NASA Mars Odessy Orbiter
    Odyssey

    NASA Mars Reconnaisence Orbiter
    Reconnaissance

    NASA’s Mars Exploration Program seeks to characterize and understand Mars as a dynamic system, including its present and past environment, climate cycles, geology and biological potential. In parallel, NASA is developing the human spaceflight capabilities needed for its journey to Mars or a future round-trip mission to the Red Planet in the 2030’s.

    MAVEN’s principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the MAVEN project. Partner institutions include Lockheed Martin, the University of California at Berkeley, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

    For images related to the findings, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/maven

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

    NASA Goddard Campus
    NASA/Goddard Campus
    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 3:51 pm on December 15, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , NASA MARS MAVEN   

    From NASA/Goddard: “NASA’s MAVEN Mission Identifies Links in Chain Leading to Atmospheric Loss” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    December 15, 2014

    Nancy Neal-Jones
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
    301-286-0039
    nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov

    Elizabeth Zubritsky
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
    301-614-5438
    elizabeth.a.zubritsky@nasa.gov

    Early discoveries by NASA’s newest Mars orbiter are starting to reveal key features about the loss of the planet’s atmosphere to space over time.

    The findings are among the first returns from NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission, which entered its science phase on Nov. 16. The observations reveal a new process by which the solar wind can penetrate deep into a planetary atmosphere. They include the first comprehensive measurements of the composition of Mars’ upper atmosphere and electrically charged ionosphere. The results also offer an unprecedented view of ions as they gain the energy that will lead to their to escape from the atmosphere.

    NASA Mars MAVEN
    NASA/MAVEN

    “We are beginning to see the links in a chain that begins with solar-driven processes acting on gas in the upper atmosphere and leads to atmospheric loss,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “Over the course of the full mission, we’ll be able to fill in this picture and really understand the processes by which the atmosphere changed over time.”

    On each orbit around Mars, MAVEN dips into the ionosphere – the layer of ions and electrons extending from about 75 to 300 miles above the surface. This layer serves as a kind of shield around the planet, deflecting the solar wind, an intense stream of hot, high-energy particles from the sun.

    Scientists have long thought that measurements of the solar wind could be made only before these particles hit the invisible boundary of the ionosphere. MAVEN’s Solar Wind Ion Analyzer, however, has discovered a stream of solar-wind particles that are not deflected but penetrate deep into Mars’ upper atmosphere and ionosphere.

    Interactions in the upper atmosphere appear to transform this stream of ions into a neutral form that can penetrate to surprisingly low altitudes. Deep in the ionosphere, the stream emerges, almost Houdini-like, in ion form again. The reappearance of these ions, which retain characteristics of the pristine solar wind, provides a new way to track the properties of the solar wind and may make it easier to link drivers of atmospheric loss directly to activity in the upper atmosphere and ionosphere.

    MAVEN’s Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer is exploring the nature of the reservoir from which gases are escaping by conducting the first comprehensive analysis of the composition of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. These studies will help researchers make connections between the lower atmosphere, which controls climate, and the upper atmosphere, where the loss is occurring.

    The instrument has measured the abundances of many gases in ion and neutral forms, revealing well-defined structure in the upper atmosphere and ionosphere, in contrast to the lower atmosphere, where gases are well-mixed. The variations in these abundances over time will provide new insights into the physics and chemistry of this region and have already provided evidence of significant upper-atmospheric “weather” that has not been measured in detail before.

    New insight into how gases leave the atmosphere is being provided by the spacecraft’s Suprathermal and Thermal Ion Composition (STATIC) instrument. Within hours after being turned on at Mars, STATIC detected the “polar plume” of ions escaping from Mars. This measurement is important in determining the rate of atmospheric loss.

    As the satellite dips down into the atmosphere, STATIC identifies the cold ionosphere at closest approach and subsequently measures the heating of this charged gas to escape velocities as MAVEN rises in altitude. The energized ions ultimately break free of the planet’s gravity as they move along a plume that extends behind Mars.

    The MAVEN spacecraft and its instruments have the full technical capability proposed in 2007 and are on track to carry out the primary science mission. The MAVEN team delivered the spacecraft to Mars on schedule, launching on the very day in 2013 projected by the team 5 years earlier. MAVEN was also delivered well under the confirmed budget established by NASA in 2010.

    The team’s success can be attributed to a focused science mission that matched the available funding and diligent management of resources. There were also minimal changes in requirements on the hardware or science capabilities that could have driven costs. It also reflects good coordination between the principal investigator; the project management at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; the Mars Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California; and the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters.

    The entire project team contributed to MAVEN’s success to date, including the management team, the spacecraft and science-instrument institutions, and the launch-services provider.

    “The MAVEN spacecraft and its instruments are fully operational and well on their way to carrying out the primary science mission,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The management team’s outstanding work enabled the project to be delivered on schedule and under budget.”

    MAVEN’s principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the mission.

    For more information about NASA’s MAVEN mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/maven

    See the full article here.

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    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

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  • richardmitnick 3:01 pm on October 14, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA MARS MAVEN   

    From NASA: “NASA Mission Provides Its First Look at Martian Upper Atmosphere” 

    NASA

    NASA

    October 14, 2014
    Dwayne Brown
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1726
    dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

    Nancy Jones / Bill Steigerwald
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
    301-286-0039 / 301-286-5017
    nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov / william.a.steigerwald@nasa.gov

    NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has provided scientists their first look at a storm of energetic solar particles at Mars, produced unprecedented ultraviolet images of the tenuous oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon coronas surrounding the Red Planet, and yielded a comprehensive map of highly-variable ozone in the atmosphere underlying the coronas.

    stuff
    hree views of an escaping atmosphere, obtained by MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph. By observing all of the products of water and carbon dioxide breakdown, MAVEN’s remote sensing team can characterize the processes that drive atmospheric loss on Mars. Image Credit: University of Colorado/NASA

    NASA MAVEN
    NASA/MAVEN

    The spacecraft, which entered Mars’ orbit Sept. 21, now is lowering its orbit and testing its instruments. MAVEN was launched to Mars in November 2013, to help solve the mystery of how the Red Planet lost most of its atmosphere.

    “All the instruments are showing data quality that is better than anticipated at this early stage of the mission,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN Principal Investigator at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “All instruments have now been turned on — although not yet fully checked out — and are functioning nominally. It’s turning out to be an easy and straightforward spacecraft to fly, at least so far. It really looks as if we’re headed for an exciting science mission.”

    Solar energetic particles (SEPs) are streams of high-speed particles blasted from the sun during explosive solar activity like flares or coronal mass ejections (CMEs). Around Earth, SEP storms can damage the sensitive electronics on satellites. At Mars, they are thought to be one possible mechanism for driving atmospheric loss.

    A solar flare on Sept. 26 produced a CME that was observed by NASA satellites on both sides of the sun. Computer models of the CME propagation predicted the disturbance and the accompanying SEPs would reach Mars on Sept. 29. MAVEN’s Solar Energetic Particle instrument was able to observe the onset of the event that day.

    “After traveling through interplanetary space, these energetic particles of mostly protons deposit their energy in the upper atmosphere of Mars,” said SEP instrument lead Davin Larson of the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. “A SEP event like this typically occurs every couple weeks. Once all the instruments are turned on, we expect to also be able to track the response of the upper atmosphere to them.”

    The hydrogen and oxygen coronas of Mars are the tenuous outer fringe of the planet’s upper atmosphere, where the edge of the atmosphere meets space. In this region, atoms that were once a part of carbon dioxide or water molecules near the surface can escape to space. These molecules control the climate, so following them allows us to understand the history of Mars over the last four billion years and to track the change from a warm and wet climate to the cold, dry climate we see today. MAVEN observed the edges of the Martian atmosphere using the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS), which is sensitive to the sunlight reflected by these atoms.

    “With these observations, MAVEN’s IUVS has obtained the most complete picture of the extended Martian upper atmosphere ever made,” said MAVEN Remote Sensing Team member Mike Chaffin of the University of Colorado, Boulder. “By measuring the extended upper atmosphere of the planet, MAVEN directly probes how these atoms escape to space. The observations support our current understanding that the upper atmosphere of Mars, when compared to Venus and Earth, is only tenuously bound by the Red Planet’s weak gravity.”

    IUVS also created a map of the atmospheric ozone on Mars by detecting the absorption of ultraviolet sunlight by the molecule.

    “With these maps we have the kind of complete and simultaneous coverage of Mars that is usually only possible for Earth,” said MAVEN Remote Sensing Team member Justin Deighan of the University of Colorado, Boulder. “On Earth, ozone destruction by refrigerator CFCs is the cause of the polar ozone hole. On Mars, ozone is just as easily destroyed by the byproducts of water vapor breakdown by ultraviolet sunlight. Tracking the ozone lets us track the photochemical processes taking place in the Martian atmosphere. We’ll be exploring this in more complete detail during MAVEN’s primary science mission.”

    There will be about two weeks of additional instrument calibration and testing before MAVEN starts its primary science mission. This includes an end-to-end test to transmit data between NASA’s Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars and Earth using the MAVEN mission’s Electra telecommunications relay. The mission aims to start full science gathering in early to mid-November.

    NASA Mars Curiosity Rover
    NASA/Curiosity

    MAVEN’s principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. The university provided two science instruments and leads science operations, as well as education and public outreach, for the mission. The University of California at Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory also provided four science instruments for the mission. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland manages the MAVEN project and provided two science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California provides navigation and Deep Space Network support, as well as the Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.

    For more about MAVEN, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/maven

    See the full article here.

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble,
    Chandra, Spitzer ]and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.
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  • richardmitnick 2:46 pm on October 10, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA MARS MAVEN   

    From NASA Science: “First Light for MAVEN” 

    NASA Science Science News

    Oct 10, 2014
    Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Production editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

    After 10-month voyage across more than 400 million miles of empty space, NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft reached Mars on Sept. 21st 2014. Less than 8 hours later, the data started to flow.

    splash

    NASA Mars MAVEN
    NASA MAVEN

    “Our Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) obtained these false-color images of Mars on Sept. 22nd,” says Nick Schneider who leads the instrument team at the University of Colorado. “They trace the distribution of hydrogen and oxygen in the Martian atmosphere.”

    MAVEN is on a mission to investigate a planetary mystery. Billions of years ago, Mars was blanketed by an atmosphere massive enough to warm the planet and allow liquid water to flow on its surface. Life could have thrived in such an environment. Today, however, only a tiny fraction of that ancient air remains, leaving Mars a desiccated wasteland.

    What happened to the atmosphere of Mars? MAVEN will attempt to answer the question by studying the upper atmosphere, where gaseous material could be lost to space.

    Schneider explains what the IUVS saw in its first look: “The oxygen gas is held close to the planet by Mars’ gravity, while lighter hydrogen gas expands to higher altitudes and extends past the edges of the image. These gases come from the breakdown of water and carbon dioxide in Mars’ atmosphere.”

    Among researchers, a popular candidate for atmospheric loss is space weather: Eons of solar storms and the relentless buffeting of solar wind might have stripped away much of the Martian atmosphere.

    A CME, or coronal mass ejection, is a billion-ton cloud of ionized gas blasted away from the sun in the aftermath of a solar flare. When CMEs hit Earth, they rattle our planet’s magnetic field, causing Northern Lights and, in extreme cases, power blackouts.

    Unlike Earth, Mars has no global magnetic field to protect it. For the most part, the Martian atmosphere is unshielded. That’s why gusts of solar wind and CME strikes could strip material away.

    “MAVEN’s primary science goal is to see how the atmosphere responds to solar forcing,” says Bruce Jakosky, the Principal Investigator for MAVEN. “So on the one hand, a CME might strip the outermost layers of the atmosphere. On the other, it might also energize the atmosphere below and repopulate the extended atmosphere with a lot of new material.”

    Either way, he says, “we expect to see something.”

    The instrument is also capable of observing Martian auroras. Here on Earth, auroras ring the magnetic poles, north and south. Mars, however, has a different magnetic structure. There is no coherent global magnetic field. Instead, Mars has a patchwork of magnetic umbrellas that sprout out of the surface in hundreds of places all around the planet. If Martian auroras occur, they would appear in the canopies of those umbrellas.

    “We are on the edges of our seats, hoping for our first detection,” says Schneider.

    Having just reached Mars, MAVEN is still in its commissioning phase. Instruments are being checked out, the spacecraft’s orbit is being adjusted. The fact that data are already arriving at Earth is an impressive achievement.

    This is just the beginning. IUVS is only one of three instrument suites on MAVEN. The Neutral Gas and Ion Spectrometer from the Goddard Space Flight Center and the Particles and Fields Package from UC Berkeley will soon be making their own revelations about Mars.

    See the full article here.

    NASA leads the nation on a great journey of discovery, seeking new knowledge and understanding of our planet Earth, our Sun and solar system, and the universe out to its farthest reaches and back to its earliest moments of existence. NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) and the nation’s science community use space observatories to conduct scientific studies of the Earth from space to visit and return samples from other bodies in the solar system, and to peer out into our Galaxy and beyond. NASA’s science program seeks answers to profound questions that touch us all:

    This is NASA’s science vision: using the vantage point of space to achieve with the science community and our partners a deep scientific understanding of our planet, other planets and solar system bodies, the interplanetary environment, the Sun and its effects on the solar system, and the universe beyond. In so doing, we lay the intellectual foundation for the robotic and human expeditions of the future while meeting today’s needs for scientific information to address national concerns, such as climate change and space weather. At every step we share the journey of scientific exploration with the public and partner with others to substantially improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education nationwide.

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