On Monday afternoon NASA successfully launched its Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) probe from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The probe's solar arrays were deployed soon after it's final rocket stage, sending it on its months-long journey to the planet mars.
The MAVEN spacecraft will take 10 months to journey from Earth to Mars. In the coming weeks researchers will be switching on the spacecraft to check its systems and science instruments.
"After 10 years of developing the mission concept and then the hardware, it's incredibly exciting to see MAVEN on its way," said Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator at the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. "But the real excitement will come in 10 months, when we go into orbit around Mars and can start getting the science results we planned."
Once MAVEN arrives in orbit around the red planet, it will be put to use studying Mars' atmosphere. More specifically, MAVEN will be looking for evidence of just how the once-abundant Martian atmosphere was lost.
Researchers believe that determining how the planet's atmosphere was lost could help shed light on how Mars changed from a water-rich environment to desolate landscape that is seen today. Current findings, provided by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, suggest that the loss of the planet's atmosphere was a major cause of climate change on Mars. The most recent hypotheses concerning the loss of the Martian atmosphere posit that heavier isotopes of carbon caused the planet's upper atmosphere to be lost.
"MAVEN joins our orbiters and rovers already at Mars to explore yet another facet of the Red Planet and prepare for human missions there by the 2030s," said Charles Bolden NASA Administrator. "This mission is part of an integrated and strategic exploration program that is uncovering the mysteries of the solar system and enabling us to reach farther destinations."