MAVEN returns first Mars observations

(Courtesy LASP/University of Colorado; NASA)

(Courtesy LASP/University of Colorado; NASA)

The LASP-led Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has obtained its first observations of the extended upper atmosphere surrounding Mars.

The Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument obtained these false-color images eight hours after the successful completion of Mars orbit insertion by the spacecraft at 10:24 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 21 after a 10-month journey.

The image shows the planet from an altitude of 36,500 kilometers, or 22,680 miles, in three ultraviolet wavelength bands. Blue shows the ultraviolet light from the sun scattered from atomic hydrogen gas in an extended cloud that goes to thousands of kilometers above the planet’s surface. Green shows a different wavelength of ultraviolet light that is primarily sunlight reflected off of atomic oxygen, showing the smaller oxygen cloud. Red shows ultraviolet sunlight reflected from the planet’s surface; the bright spot in the lower right is light reflected either from polar ice or clouds.

The oxygen gas is held close to the planet by Mars’ gravity, while lighter hydrogen gas is present to higher altitudes and extends past the edges of the image. These gases derive from the breakdown of water and carbon dioxide in Mars’ atmosphere. Over the course of its one-Earth-year primary science mission, MAVEN observations like these will be used to determine the loss rate of hydrogen and oxygen from the Martian atmosphere. These observations will allow us to determine the amount of water that has escaped from the planet over time.

MAVEN is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the tenuous upper atmosphere of Mars.

The Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph was built by the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder. Professor Bruce Jakosky from CU-Boulder is the principal investigator for MAVEN. CU-Boulder also is providing science operations, two of the science instruments and leads education and public outreach for the mission. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the project and provided two of the science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. The University of California, Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory provided four science instruments for the mission. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., provides navigation support, Deep Space Network support, and Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.

For more information contact IUVS Team Leader Nick Schneider of CU-Boulder at or at 303-519-0548.

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