MAVEN gives first look at Mars’ escaping atmosphere

MAVEN at Mars

In this artist's illustration, MAVEN orbits Mars looking for clues to how the planet lost its once Earth-like atmosphere.

University of Colorado, NASA

Bits of Mars have been caught in the act of floating off into space. The first images from NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft show hydrogen, carbon and oxygen atoms escaping from the planet.

MAVEN, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft, arrived at the Red Planet on September 21 and is designed to look at how the solar wind and other interactions strip particles out of the planet’s atmosphere. That data could help scientists figure out how Mars transformed from a once warm, wet planet into the relatively cold, frozen world it is today. 

atoms in Martian atmosphere
Atoms of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen float away from Mars in these three images from the MAVEN spacecraft. Click image for a larger view. University of Colorado, NASA

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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