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MAVEN Returns First Set of Martian Observation

First Posted: Sep 25, 2014 06:43 AM EDT

NASA's MAVEN spacecraft has successfully beamed images of the first set of Martian observation that it collected eight hours after the orbital insertion.

In a latest announcement, the space agency revealed that its Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft (MAVEN) - which had made a remarkable entry into the Martian orbit after a 10-month journey - has now obtained its first observation of the extended upper Martian atmosphere.

The false color images obtained within 24 hours of its entering into the orbit above the Red Planet was done with the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) at 10.24 p.m. EDT Sunday, September 21.

The image represents Mars from an altitude of 36,500 km in three different ultraviolet wavelength bands. The blue color indicates the UV light from the sun scattered from atomic hydrogen gas in an extended cloud that is nearly thousands of kilometers above the planet's surface.

The color green on the other hand reveals the different wavelength of UB light that is basically sunlight returned off of atomic oxygen, showing the smaller oxygen cloud. The color red reveals the UV sunlight reflected from the surface of the planet.

The team, however, suspects that the bright spot present at the lower right corner is actually the light reflected off of polar ice or clouds.

"The oxygen gas is held close to the planet by Mars' gravity, while lighter hydrogen gas is present to higher altitudes and extends past the edges of the image. These gases derive from the breakdown of water and carbon dioxide in Mars' atmosphere. Over the course of its one-Earth-year primary science mission, MAVEN observations like these will be used to determine the loss rate of hydrogen and oxygen from the Martian atmosphere.  These observations will allow us to determine the amount of water that has escaped from the planet over time," according to NASA press release.

Launched November 18, 2013, MAVEN is the first ever spacecraft that is solely designed to explore the tenuous upper Martian atmosphere. The spacecraft ended a 10-month journey an arrived on Mars at 7.24 P.M. EDT, September 21. After this successful orbital insertion, MAVEN will proceed to a six-week commissioning phase that includes maneuvering into the final science orbit and testing the instruments and science-mapping commands.

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