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Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics

Space Weather

MAVEN and Space Weather

MAVEN will study the Martian atmosphere just after "solar maximum," a time when the Sun is most active. During this time, the Sun's activity reveals processes like those occurring billions of years ago, when our star was young. (Courtesy Hathaway/NASA/MSFC)

MAVEN will study the Martian atmosphere just after “solar maximum,” a time when the Sun is most active. During this time, the Sun’s activity reveals processes like those occurring billions of years ago, when our star was young. (Courtesy Hathaway/NASA/MSFC)

MAVEN has arrived at Mars at a time in the solar cycle that is traditionally rich in major space weather events. The 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. These experiments have been specifically designed to determine whether space weather events increase atmospheric escape rates to historically important levels.

MAVEN scientists will analyze data from these instruments and 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 will allow 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 will enable 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

The ENLIL model below is produced by the integrated Space Weather Analysis System (iSWA), developed to accurately specify and forecast both the large-scale and local space environments and their probable impacts for NASA missions, including MAVEN. By combining the most advanced space weather models currently available with concurrent space environment information from satellite observations, iSWA provides real-time forecasts and presents actionable space weather information.

Images courtesy NASA/GSFC

Models like this allow scientists to predict what impacts certain solar wind and coronal mass ejection (CME) levels can have on satellites and planets throughout the inner Solar System and provide information critical to preparing for space weather events, including velocity, density, and dynamic pressure of solar winds and CMEs.

For more information about the ENLIL model shown here and the aspects of space weather it depicts, please watch this video: