With NASA’s Curiosity rover peacefully chipping away at the Red Planet’s dusty surface, the space agency has successfully launched another probe designed to study Mars’ atmosphere. We’ve seen plenty of evidence to suggest that the Martian planet may have once contained oceans of water, similar to what’s here on Earth, and scientists want to figure out why and how that changed. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution probe (MAVEN) will hopefully figure that out.
MAVEN left the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop an Atlas 5 rocket early on Monday, beginning what will be a 10-month journey to Mars. The craft’s sole purpose will be to look for clues about the evolution of Mars through its atmosphere, and how it went from possible water world to desolation. Billions of years ago, scientists believe Mars once contained a thick atmosphere, like Earth’s; today, the atmosphere of Mars is estimated to be about one percent as thick as that of Earth.
By studying the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, solar wind environment and other elements, MAVEN might be able to provide researchers with enough data to conclusively reveal why Mars is the way it is. Since MAVEN isn’t expected to arrive for another 10-months, the school-bus-size spacecraft won’t start beaming data back until Sept. 22, 2014 at the earliest. The probe itself is equipped with eight science instruments carrying nine sensors, and weighs in at 5,410 pounds.