MAVEN Instruments Study the Solar Wind at Mars

The ‪#‎MAVEN‬ spacecraft is equipped with several instruments devoted to measuring the solar wind and how solar energetic particles and extreme ultraviolet irradiance interact with Mars’ upper atmosphere. These experiments have been specifically designed to determine whether space weather events increase atmospheric escape rates to historically important levels.

In analyzing data from these instruments, MAVEN scientists will take three approaches to derive the history of Mars’ atmosphere:

1. Use ratios of stable isotopes to determine the integrated loss to space
2. Use observed changes in escape in response to changing energetic inputs to directly extrapolate back in time
3. Model escape processes using current conditions and extrapolate models back in time

Taking these approaches enables our team scientists to determine how various space weather events affect the upper atmosphere of Mars today and how they have contributed to its evolution over time. Capturing events of different magnitudes becomes more likely over time and contributes to producing more accurate model extrapolations back in time.

MAVEN data is allowing scientists to:

  • Investigate atmospheric escape response to regular solar wind variations and to major events (solar flares, coronal mass ejections)
  • Update an estimate of solar wind evolution
  • Determine how solar energetic particles contribute to escape, and
  • Estimate integrated historical loss to space

NASA Goddard

THEMIS Launched from Cape Canaveral 9 Years Ago

themispatchIt was a clear Florida day on February 17th, 2007, the sun was setting, the winds calm and the sky clear. Crowds were gathered at the Cape Canaveral Air Force and at Jetty Park in Cocoa Beach.

After several launch delays and years of design, fabrication and testing from UC Berkeley to the Jet Propulsion Lab, to Swales and Astrotech, launch day was actually here. The countdown was proceeding, 3, 2, 1 Liftoff….

The 45th Space Wing here supported the Feb. 17 launch of a Delta II booster carrying five National Aeronautics and Space Administration probes on a mission called “THEMIS,” which will study auroral substorms, an avalanche of magnetic energy powered by the solar wind that intensifies the northern and southern lights. (Courtesy photo)

The 45th Space Wing here supported the Feb. 17 launch of a Delta II booster carrying five National Aeronautics and Space Administration probes on a mission called “THEMIS,” which will study auroral substorms, an avalanche of magnetic energy powered by the solar wind that intensifies the northern and southern lights. (Courtesy photo)

The crowds on the beach were cheering and one of scientists was even tracking data from the satellite live during the ascent. Within about 2 hours, mission operators at the Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL) of the University of California, Berkeley, commanded and received signals from all five spacecraft, confirming nominal separation status.

The five THEMIS probes atop their probe carrier in the Astrotech cleanroom

The five THEMIS probes atop their probe carrier in the Astrotech cleanroom

On May 19, 2008 the Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL) at Berkeley announced NASA had extended the THEMIS mission to the year 2012. NASA officially approved the movement of THEMIS B and C into lunar orbit under the mission name ARTEMIS (Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of the Moon’s Interaction with the Sun).

The five satellites continue to operate and gather data.

What we do is hard, our setbacks make us better. Remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice

On January 27, 1967, Apollo 1 sat on its launch pad, they were doing a plugs out test, i.e. a powered test with the astronauts in their space suits, strapped into their seats in the Apollo 1 capsule.

A frayed wire, a spark, a pure oxygen environment. Fire in the capsule with no way to get out. The three astronauts perished and the nation mourned.

The crew of Apollo 1 poses for a photo before mission. Astronaut Roger Chaffee of Grand Rapids was killed during a pre-launch test for Apollo 1. (NASA image)

The crew of Apollo 1 poses for a photo before mission. Astronaut Roger B. Chaffee, Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Edward White II were killed during a pre-launch test for Apollo 1. (NASA image)

January 28, 1986, almost 19 years to the day since the Apollo 1 disaster. The launch had several delays, launch conflict with another mission, equipment problems, launch abort site issues and of course weather delays.

The weather was bitterly cold on the 28th, icicles had formed all over the launch facility, some engineers called for another delay but visibility was high and the pressure to launch higher. The first teacher in space was on this mission.

STS 51 L launched at 11:38 EST, at T+68 seconds Mission Control gave the command  “go at throttle up” and confirmed by Commander Dick Scobee. At T+73 Challenger disintegrated.

STS-51-L crew: (front row) Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair; (back row) Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik.

An international crew of Astronauts launched from the Kennedy Space Center on January 16, 2003. It was a  beautiful Florida day but at T+82 seconds a section of the External Tank protection broke off. It was a suitcase size piece of foam. On February 1, 2003 after a mission filled with science experiments and a multitude of tasks, it was time to come home.

Unfortunately that piece of foam impacted the Orbiters wing and left a large hole, which allowed the searing temperatures of re-entry to cause a catastrophic failure in Columbia’s structure. Columbia disintegrated over Texas minutes before it was scheduled to land at the Kennedy Space Center.

The crew of STS-107 in October 2001. From left to right: Brown, Husband, Clark, Chawla, Anderson, McCool, Ramon

The crew of STS-107 in October 2001. From left to right: David Brown, Rick Husband, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, William McCool, Ilan Ramon

This one week period spanning over 35 years saw some of NASA’s greatest loss of life. We remember and honor the crews, making the ultimate sacrifice in the exploration of space.

Space exploration is not easy, otherwise everyone would be doing it. From these tragedies comes innovation, new methods, better practices. The designers go back to their drawing boards. They strive to make the missions safer and more reliable.

Whether crossing the ocean’s looking for new lands, doing scientific experiments in low earth orbit on a space station, exploring the moon, or eventually Mars, they are explorers. They have walked on the Moon, Built Space Stations, deployed satellites or captured and repaired them.

John F. Kennedy famously said,

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

We have had great success in space travel and space exploration but this week we honor those who have paid the ultimate price.

Zebra Stripes in Outer Space

“Zebra Stripes in Outer Space”:
Long-standing mystery of radiation belt signature explained

In an article recently accepted in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Dr. Solène Lejosne, post-doctoral fellow at the UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory and Pr. Juan G. Roederer, Professor Emeritus from the Geophysical Institute of Alaska, propose a new theory to explain a feature of the Earth’s Van Allen radiation belt particles that has defied satisfactory explanation for half a century.

This feature has been given the name “zebra stripes” by space physicists because it shows up as a zebra-like pattern in energy spectrograms, Continue reading

MAVEN Studies Mars Upper Atmosphere to Determine “What Happened to the Atmosphere”

The MAVEN mission is the first spacecraft specifically designed to study Mars’ upper atmosphere. MAVEN’s goal is to understand how Mars lost its thick, early atmosphere to space, and how this in turn caused it to lose its once hospitable climate.

MAVEN’s orbit gives it the most comprehensive view of the Martian atmosphere to date. Circling the red planet every 4.5 hours on an elliptical path, MAVEN passes close to the north and south poles at an inclination of 75 degrees. This allows MAVEN to gather a north-south swath of data with each pass. At the same time, Mars itself rotates eastward beneath MAVEN, giving the orbiter longitudinal coverage. The combination of MAVEN’s orbit and Mars’ daily rotation provides a complete picture of the Martian atmosphere every day.

(Video credit: NASA’s Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio)
NASA Goddard
NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Ancient regions on Mars bear signs of abundant water—such as features resembling valleys and deltas, and minerals that only form in the presence of liquid water. Scientists think that billions of years ago, the atmosphere of Mars was much denser and warm enough to form rivers, lakes, and perhaps even oceans of water. As the planet cooled and lost its global magnetic field, the solar wind and solar storms eroded away to space a significant amount of the planet’s atmosphere, turning ‪#‎Mars‬ into the cold, arid desert we see today. The goal of MAVEN is to determine how much of Mars’ atmosphere and water have been lost to space, and how these processes have changed the climate on the Red Planet over its history.

NASA’s Van Allen Probes Revolutionize View of Radiation Belts


About 600 miles from Earth’s surface is the first of two donut-shaped electron swarms, known as the Van Allen Belts, or the radiation belts. Understanding the shape and size of the belts, which can shrink and swell in response to incoming radiation from the sun, is crucial for protecting our technology in space. The harsh radiation isn’t good for satellites’ health, so scientists wish to know just which orbits could be jeopardized in different situations.

Since the 1950s, when scientists first began forming a picture of these rings of energetic particles, our understanding of their shape has largely remained unchanged—a small, inner belt, a largely-empty space known as the slot region, and then the outer belt, which is dominated by electrons and which is the larger and more dynamic of the two. But a new study of data from NASA’s Van Allen Probes reveals that the story may not be so simple.

The complete article is here.

NuSTAR observes stellar corpses in the Andromeda galaxy

Andromeda Collapse

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has captured the best high-energy X-ray view yet of a portion of our nearest large, neighboring galaxy, Andromeda. The space mission has observed 40 “X-ray binaries” — intense sources of X-rays comprised of a black hole or neutron star that feeds off a stellar companion.

The results will ultimately help researchers better understand the role of X-ray binaries in the evolution of our universe. According to astronomers, these energetic objects may play a critical role in heating the intergalactic bath of gas in which the very first galaxies formed.

“Andromeda is the only large spiral galaxy where we can see individual X-ray binaries and study them in detail in an environment like our own,” said Daniel Wik of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who presented the results at the 227th meeting of American Astronomical Society in Kissimmee, Florida. “We can then use this information to deduce what’s going on in more distant galaxies, which are harder to see.”

The complete article courtesy of NuSTAR/Caltech