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Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics

NASA’s MAVEN mission scientists identify links in chain leading to Mars atmospheric loss

December 15, 2014

Early discoveries by NASA’s newest Mars orbiter are starting to reveal key features about the loss of the planet’s atmosphere to space over time.

The findings are among the first returns from NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission, which achieved orbit Sept. 21 and entered its science phase on Nov. 16. The observations reveal a new process by which the solar wind — an intense stream of hot, high-energy particles blowing off the sun at more than 1 million mph — can penetrate deep into a planetary atmosphere.

“We are beginning to see the links in a chain that begins with solar-driven processes acting on gas in the upper atmosphere and leads to atmospheric loss,” said University of Colorado Boulder Professor Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN’s principal investigator. “Over the course of the full mission, we’ll be able to fill in this picture and really understand the processes by which the atmosphere changed over time.”

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