The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter may have revealed something interesting about the Mars atmosphere. Joseph Grebowsky, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, stated that MAVEN detected metal ions in Mars’ atmosphere. The metals, including iron, magnesium, and sodium are found as ions or electrically charged states. The study was recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
NASA launched the MAVEN in November 2013 to explore Mars’ upper atmosphere, ionosphere, and how the planet interacts with the sun and solar wind. The MAVEN has eight sensors to detect gas, ultraviolet light, solar wind, and solar energy among other things. NASA collaborated with the University of Colorado for the project. It is the first mission to explore the upper atmosphere of the Red Planet. Through its orbit around Mars, the MAVEN collects gas and ions, testing for its composition.
One of the MAVEN’s key objectives is determining why the planet “turned into a cold desert,” Science Times reported. The metals in the Mars atmosphere may act “differently” than on Earth. The metal molecules and atoms are charged, taking electrons and “eventually turn them into ions.” This discovery, however, is nothing new in the solar system and is common. These particles are often the reason why NASA spacecraft “halts” while journeying through the Mars atmosphere.
Grebowsky and his team of researchers wrote in Geophysical Research Letters that “there is no separation of light magnesium and heavy iron.” The metals were “well-mixed” with the neutral atmosphere at elevations were “no mixing process is expected.” Because of Earth’s magnetic field, the mixture of metal ions with the atmosphere does not happen. Mars has no such field, allowing the metals to mix. Studying the Mars atmosphere against the Earth’s will help researchers “better understand dust impacts and atmospheric dynamics throughout the solar system,” Grebowsky said to Space.com.
The appearance of metal in Mars’ atmosphere come from the “constant rain of small-sized meteoroids,” the International Business Times reported. Once a meteor hits the Mars atmosphere, they vaporize leaving the electrically charged ions in its wake. Using the metals, researchers can “infer motion in the ionosphere,” Grebowsky said to the International Business Times.
MAVEN will have another year and a half in its mission before the spacecraft is turned into a “telecommunications orbiter,” the International Business Times reported. MAVEN will continue as a communications satellite until it eventually runs out of fuel.
By Cheryl Werber
Photo Courtesy NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center