NASA's New Mars Mission: To Study the Mystery of the Missing Atmosphere

By Andrew Moseman | October 6, 2010 3:39 pm

MAVENNASA’s next rendezvous with the Red Planet got the go-ahead this week. The space agency approved development of MAVEN, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, which is scheduled to launch in November 2013.

In the last decade, missions like the Phoenix Lander, the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, and the Mars Express have reinforced the case that our neighbor was once watery, and far more hospitable to life than the planet we see today. The ancient evidence of liquid water suggests that the planet once had a dense atmosphere, which is now long gone. MAVEN’s mission is to investigate the interaction between Mars’s now-thin atmosphere and the solar wind, and to look for clues to how and when the sun stripped away the planet’s thick atmosphere.

Many researchers think that Mars’s loss of its magnetic field billions of years ago started the process.

Mars can’t protect itself from the solar wind because it no longer has a shield, the planet’s global magnetic field is dead,” said [lead investigator Bruce] Jakosky, describing how the magnetic field disappeared and the atmosphere then exposed to the punishing solar wind. [AFP]

For more details about MAVEN, check out our coverage from 2008, when NASA first announced the mission. The team’s critical design review will come next July, which could be the true make-or-break time for the mission.

Related Content:
80beats: NASA Announces Plan to Study Martian Climate Mystery
80beats: Was Mars’ Moon Phobos Born From a Violent Collision?
80beats: Mars Rover Followed Mineral “Blueberries” to a Watery Discovery
80beats: Early Mars: Cold and Wet, But Potentially Still Full of Life

Image: NASA

  • Dean

    lack of a magnetic field would make it impossible to terraform the planet i guess right? supposing any type of terraforming technology ever existed

  • John

    I’ve always wondered: Could a very large coronal mass ejection strip away the atmosphere of a planet? Would there be any evidence to confirm that as a cause?

  • Brian Too

    Let’s hope the Martian Ghoul doesn’t claim another victim!

  • Danni

    How incredible

  • william

    never mind

  • rabidmob

    Would be very interesting if we could learn to reverse the effect or something.

  • James

    have you ever stopped to think of why the planet Mars lost its atmosphere? studies indicate Mars was struck by a meteor storm therefore slowing the spin rate of the planet causing it to lose gravity and it no longer had the motion to generate a stable magnetic shield. could you not use the same event that caused this devastation on Mars to reverse the process for example harvest meteors from the asteroid belt and launch them at the planet so that the impact follows the natural spin of the planet giving it a speed boost. plus if you harvest the many huge ice berg like meteors you could also create lakes of liquid water at the same time.
    please think about it.

  • Baz

    Umm, no. You’d need something the size of mars to do that.


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