The Red Planet will soon have to make room for another guest at the dinner table. And it could be you. NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN(MAVEN) probe, set to launch on November 18, will carry eight scientific instruments to study the Martian atmosphere from orbit and one DVD. A favorite onboard movie perhaps? I wish. No, that DVD will contain your name if you drop by the Going to Mars with MAVEN site before September 10.
Just sign in and bingo – you get to take a trip to Mars without the trouble of leaving home. I entered my name this morning and also checked out the winners of the the MAVEN haiku contest. When you enter yours, you might get an error message at first. Try it again – it worked fine on the second try.
NASA held a haiku writing contest on the topic of Mars and MAVEN, many of which will also be included on the DVD. Here are a few of my faves. Click HERE for many more:
Mars, copper penny
Dropped in the dark bank of night
Saved for Earth’s future
— J. David Liss, New Jersey, USA
Writing poems, Mars,
I’m a little bit rusty
But then so are you
— Clay Graham, California, USA
Hi, from the Blue One,
your long time solar neighbor.
We’re harmless, mostly.
MAVEN will arrive at Mars in the fall of 2014 and begin a year-long mission to study the atmosphere and Martian climate in detail. Mars once had a much thicker atmosphere that allowed liquid water to pool into lakes and rivers on its surface. Scientists are hoping to learn how the planet lost so much of its air and water to become the cold, arid planet it is today.
Instruments like the Suprathermal and Thermal Ion Composition (STATIC) device will measure the current rate at which Mars loses its atmosphere to space to help us look back into Mars’ past. No one sure exactly what causes the loss, though it’s likely connected to the planet’s lack of a protective magnetic field like the Earth’s.
Mars may have had a magnetic field in ancient times, which would have protected its atmosphere from being stripped away by continual blasts from the solar wind, a high-speed flow of energetic electrons and protons.
Which begs the question of how that field disappeared in the first place.
Earth’s magnetic field is created by the currents generated from the motion of hot, liquid iron in its core. Mars probably started out with a similar liquid core, but since the planet is considerably smaller than the Earth, it cooled down much faster. The core gradually solidified, the magnetic field vanished and the Red Planet found itself naked in a biting wind.
Check out the latest on the MAVEN mission HERE.