Features, News, & Events
If planets had personalities, Mars would be a rock star according to recent preliminary results from NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft. Mars sports a “Mohawk” of escaping atmospheric particles at its poles, “wears” a layer of metal particles high in its atmosphere, and lights up with aurora after being smacked by solar storms. MAVEN is also mapping out the escaping atmospheric particles. The early results are being discussed at a MAVEN-sponsored “new media” workshop held in Berkeley, California, on June 19-21.(Read more»)
In June 2015, Mars will swing almost directly behind the sun from Earth’s perspective, and this celestial geometry will lead to diminished communications with spacecraft at Mars.
The arrangement of the sun between Earth and Mars is called Mars solar conjunction. It occurs about every 26 months as the two planets travel in their sun-centered orbits. The sun disrupts radio communications between the planets during the conjunction period. To prevent spacecraft at Mars from receiving garbled commands that could be misinterpreted or even harmful, the operators of Mars orbiters and rovers temporarily stop sending any commands.(Read more»)
One day, when humans go to Mars, they might find that, occasionally, the Red Planet has green skies.
In late Dec. 2014, the MAVEN spacecraft detected evidence of widespread auroras in Mars’s northern hemisphere. The “Christmas Lights,” as researchers called them, circled the globe and descended so close to the Martian equator that, if the lights had occurred on Earth, they would have been over places like Florida and Texas.(Read more»)
NASA has beefed up a process of traffic monitoring, communication and maneuver planning to ensure that Mars orbiters do not approach each other too closely.
Last year’s addition of two new spacecraft orbiting Mars brought the census of active Mars orbiters to five, the most ever. MAVEN and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission joined the 2003 Mars Express from ESA (the European Space Agency) and two from NASA: the 2001 Mars Odyssey and the 2006 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The newly enhanced collision-avoidance process also tracks the approximate location of NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor, a 1997 orbiter that is no longer working.
It’s not just the total number that matters, but also the types of orbits missions use for achieving their science goals. MAVEN, which reached Mars on Sept. 21, 2014, studies the upper atmosphere. It flies an elongated orbit, sometimes farther from Mars than NASA’s other orbiters and sometimes closer to Mars, so it crosses altitudes occupied by those orbiters. For safety, NASA also monitors positions of ESA’s and India’s orbiters, which both fly elongated orbits.(Read more»)
MAVEN completed 1,000 orbits around the Red Planet on April 6, four-and-a-half months into its one-year primary mission.
MAVEN is in its science-mapping orbit and has been taking data since the start of its primary mission on Nov. 16, 2014. The furthest point in the spacecraft’s elliptical orbit has been 6,500 kilometers (4,039 miles) and the closest 130 kilometers (81 miles) above the Martian surface.(Read more»)