MAVEN’s Particles & Fields Package: Studying the Solar Wind

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To planetary scientists, the Martian atmosphere presents an intriguing mystery: today it’s a thin, cold wisp of carbon dioxide with just one percent the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere, but long ago it was thick and warm enough to support lakes and rivers on the Martian surface. How did Mars lose so much of its early atmosphere? Scientists think that the solar wind may be responsible, and the MAVEN spacecraft is designed to find out.

The instruments of MAVEN’s Particles & Fields package will study the interaction of the solar wind with Mars’s upper atmosphere, helping scientists to better understand hoMars became the freeze-dried planet that we see today.

In this video, produced by NASA Goddard, Robert Lin, the late director of the UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory, discusses how MAVEN will study the interaction of the Martian atmosphere with the solar wind.

(Video credit: National Aeronautics and Space Administration – NASA/GSFC)

NuSTAR – The Progression of a Supernova Blast

NuSTAR was launched on June 13, 2012 from the south pacific atoll of Kwajalein on a Pegasus rocket. New observations from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, are filling in the missing pieces in the puzzle of how massive stars explode.

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Image credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/JPL-Caltech

     The illustrations above show the progression of a supernova blast. A massive star (left), which has created elements as heavy as iron in its interior, blows up in a tremendous explosion (middle), scattering its outer layers in a structure called a supernova remnant (right). The supernova explosion itself also creates many elements, including those heavier than iron, such as gold.

     In addition new data from NuSTAR suggests that exploding stars slosh around before detonating and this Caltech simulation shows how scientist are rethinking pre launch models of what happens when a star explode.

THEMIS – 7 Years Later

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photos courtesy of NASA

On February 17th 2007, a Delta II Rocket lifted off of launch pad 17B at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Base. Atop the rocket were a cluster of five identical satellites destined for a 2-year mission to study the violent colorful eruptions of Auroras.

The missions aim was to try and resolve one of the oldest mysteries in space physics, namely to determine what physical process in near-Earth space initiates the violent eruptions of the aurora that occur during substorms in the Earth’s magnetosphere.

After finishing their primary science mission, two of the THEMIS satellites were renamed and retasked. Their journey to the moon started on July 20, 2009, the 40th anniversary of the first manned lunar landing. The UC Berkeley Space Sciences Lab MOC or mission operations center, maneuvered the spacecraft, on a long and complex transfer trajectory out of earth orbit and transitioned the pair of satellites into a lunar orbit. By mid 2011 the two ARTEMIS satellites had been inserted into lunar orbit and had begun making observations to study how solar wind electrifies, alters and erodes the moon’s surface.

Bill Nye Promotes MAVEN

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Bill Nye, “The Science Guy” is a guest speaker at the Kennedy Visitor Center on November 17th to discuss MAVEN and its mission to Mars. The spacecraft launched the next day atop an Atlas Centaur rocket and is scheduled for Mars Orbit Insertion, MOI, planned for September 22, 2014

 

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Here is a photo of Bill Nye preparing to debate Ken Ham about evolution vs creationism on February 4, 2014. A closer look shows that Bill’s laptop proudly displays the MAVEN mission sticker. In the opposite corner is the JUNO mission sticker.

 

MAVEN on Track to Carry Out its Science Mission

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The MAVEN spacecraft and all of its science instruments have completed their initial checkout, and all of them are working as expected. This means that MAVEN is on track to carry out its full science mission as originally planned. This was a major milestone for all our scientists and engineers here at SSL and across the country. There are many events down the line before we arrive at Mars for orbit insertion in the late summer/early fall timeframe.