Life on Mars? NASA's MAVEN enters Martian orbit to find out

NASA robotic spacecraft MAVEN ended its 10-month journey on Sunday when it entered orbit around Mars to begin its mission to study how Mars lost its water.

    2014/09/22

NSFW    NASA’s robotic spacecraft MAVEN ended its 10-month journey on Sunday when it entered orbit around Mars to begin its mission to study how Mars lost its water.

According to Reuters, after traveling 442 million miles, MAVEN ignited its six thrusters, which in 33 minutes slowed the spacecraft down by about 2,750 miles per hour, allowing Mars’ gravity to capture it in an elliptical orbit, which is 236 miles above Mars at its low point.

After the burn, MAVEN reoriented itself to aim its high-gain antenna back toward Earth, re-establishing a faster data link to give flight controllers a detailed look at the spacecraft's performance, CBS News reported.

Over the next several weeks, MAVEN will lower its altitude until it reaches its 93-mile by 3,900-mile operational orbit, Reuters reported.

At its closest point to Mars, MAVEN is able to sample the gas and ion composition of Mars’ upper atmosphere directly. At its highest point, it can conduct ultraviolet imaging of the entire planet.

Scientists suspect Mars was not always the dry and cold desert it is today.

MAVEN will provide information on how and how fast Martian atmospheric gases are being lost to space today, which will help scientists understand whether Mars had an environment able to support life and how the planet lost 99 percent of its atmosphere over millions of years.
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