Exploring Mars in new ways
Not discounting the valuable ongoing work of the Mars Curiosity rover, which will continue to operate throughout 2014, another mission to the Red Planet is set to grab a lot of the news headlines over the next year: the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) probe. Part of NASA’s wider Mars Scout programme, MAVEN launched in November 2013 and, when it arrives at Mars in September 2014, it is set to do something never achieved before: to determine exactly how the loss of volatile gases from its atmosphere has impacted the planet.
Why is this so important? Well, Mars’s lack of a proper atmosphere is believed to be a key reason as to why there is no liquid water on the planet. As such, by gathering data on the state of the upper atmosphere, ionosphere and its interactions with solar winds, as well as what the current rates of escape are for its gases and ions, scientists will be able to infer how its climate changed and will continue to evolve in the future. This information can then be used as a benchmark when studying other planets – particularly in terms of habitability.
If this wasn’t enough MAVEN will be joined by India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), which will also study the Martian atmosphere. While down here on Earth research is ongoing into a novel way to get around Mars’s surface – by hopping rather than ‘roving’. This will let us simply leap over features like hills and boulder fields and open up previously off-bounds areas.