What is the purpose of MAVEN?
MAVEN is the first spacecraft that will focus primarily on the state of the upper atmosphere, the processes that control it, and the overall atmospheric loss that is currently occurring. Specifically, MAVEN will explore the processes through which the top of the Martian atmosphere can be lost to space. Scientists think that this loss could be important in explaining the changes in the climate of Mars that have occurred over the last four billion years.
Why is climate change important on Mars?
The present Mars atmosphere is composed almost entirely of CO2 and is about 1% as thick as the Earth’s atmosphere; surface temperatures average about 50°C below the freezing point of water. However, evidence suggests that this was not always the case. Images show features that were formed by liquid water, and chemical evidence from the Opportunity rover suggests there was longstanding liquid water at the surface. If liquid water was present early in Mars’ history, perhaps life also existed. Scientists seek to understand why the early, warm, wet Martian climate became today’s cold and dry climate.
Where did Mars’ thick early atmosphere go?
The abundant water and carbon dioxide on early Mars have disappeared. They could either have been lost to space, or they could have seeped into the crust, forming H2O- and CO2-bearing minerals. Evidence tells us that both processes have occurred, but we do not know their comparative importance. MAVEN will explore the importance of the historical loss of water and carbon dioxide to space.
Will MAVEN look for life on Mars?
Determining whether Mars ever had life is an important goal of the NASA Mars exploration program. By exploring the presence of water and atmosphere through Martian history, MAVEN will determine whether microbes could have survived on Mars in the past. Further discoveries concerning the actual historical presence of life on Mars will almost certainly require missions that return samples of the Martian surface to Earth for analysis.