Where’d Mars’ oceans go?


A mission that will scan Mars’ atmosphere to better understand what happened to its water will be launched by Nasa next month.
The space agency has given the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (Maven) an emergency exemption from the U.S. government shutdown which is now entering its second week.
The bus-sized spacecraft, which is due to launch on the 18 of November, will dip to an altitude of 80 miles above the planet’s surface to sample Mars’ entire upper atmosphere. Maven, which measures 37 feet long when its solar panels are open, will take about 10 months to reach Mars after launch and will then enter orbit at around 12,500 miles an hour. The spacecraft’s aim is to take samples of the gases in the Martian atmosphere in the hope of measuring the levels of water vapour and the rate at which it is being lost.
Mars is thought to have once had huge amounts of water flowing on its surface. Features such as dry channels and minerals that typically form in water remain as evidence of its watery past. Maven will let scientists test theories that the sun’s energy slowly eroded nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water from the Martian atmosphere to leave it the dry, desolate world seen today.
Understanding where this water went will provide key clues as to whether life could have survived on the planet. ‘Maven will help us understand the climate history, which is the history of habitability,’ said Bruce Jakosky, planetary scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder and MAVEN’s principal investigator.
‘Although Maven is not going to detect life, it’s trying to understand the environment that might have been able to support life.’
A major reason Nasa has granted exemption for Maven is because the spacecraft will provide communications link support for future landers and rovers on the Martian surface, including Curiosity.
The Curiosity currently sends back data using two older satellites – Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Maven is currently undergoing final preparation and testing before its launch on November 18th. Nasa is continuing to keep workers at Mission Control in Houston and elsewhere during the government shutdown to support the International Space station, where two Americans and four others are deployed.