Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Mars spacecraft, including MAVEN, reveal comet flyby effects on Martian atmosphere

10.11.2014

Two NASA and one European spacecraft, including NASA’s MAVEN mission led by the University of Colorado Boulder, have gathered new information about the basic properties of a wayward comet that buzzed by Mars Oct. 19, directly detecting its effects on the Martian atmosphere.

Data from observations carried out by MAVEN, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft revealed that debris from the comet, known officially as Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring, caused an intense meteor shower and added a new layer of ions, or charged particles, to the ionosphere. The ionosphere is an electrically charged region in the atmosphere that reaches from about 75 miles (120 kilometers) to several hundred miles above the Martian surface.


“MAVEN is well suited for studying the effects of the dust from the comet in the Martian atmosphere, because it makes measurements at the altitudes where the dust was expected to have an effect,” said CU-Boulder Professor Bruce Jakosky of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, the principal investigator on the $671 million Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission. “We also should be able to see if there are long-term effects from the comet dust in that same region of the atmosphere.”

Using the observations, scientists were able to make a direct connection between the input of debris from the meteor shower to the subsequent formation of the transient layer of ions – the first time such an event has been observed on any planet, including Earth, said the MAVEN research team.

The comet traveled from the most distant region of our solar system called the Oort Cloud and made a close approach at 2:27 p.m. EDT within about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) of the Red Planet. That is less than half the distance between Earth and our moon and less than one-tenth the distance of any known comet flyby of Earth.

“MAVEN is well suited for studying the effects of the dust from the comet in the Martian atmosphere, because it makes measurements at the altitudes where the dust was expected to have an effect,” said CU-Boulder Professor Bruce Jakosky of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, the principal investigator on the $671 million Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission. “We also should be able to see if there are long-term effects from the comet dust in that same region of the atmosphere.”

Dust from the comet was vaporized high in the Martian atmosphere, producing what was likely an impressive meteor shower. The debris resulted in significant but temporary changes to the planet’s upper atmosphere and possible longer-term changes. A host of Earth-based and orbiting telescopes also observed the unique celestial event.

The MAVEN spacecraft, recently arrived at Mars, detected the comet encounter in two ways. The remote-sensing Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) designed and built at CU-Boulder observed intense ultraviolet emissions from magnesium and iron ions high in the atmosphere in the aftermath of the meteor shower. Not even the most intense meteor storms on Earth have produced as strong a response as this one: The emission dominated Mars’ ultraviolet spectrum for several hours after the encounter and then dissipated over the next two days, according to the MAVEN science team.

MAVEN also was able to directly sample and help scientists determine the composition of some of the vaporized comet dust in Mars’ atmosphere. Analysis of these samples by the spacecraft’s Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer designed and developed at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, detected eight different types of metal ions, including sodium, magnesium and iron.

These are the first direct measurements of the composition of dust from an Oort Cloud comet. The Oort Cloud, well beyond the outermost planets that surround our sun, is a spherical region of icy objects believed to be material left over from the formation of the solar system.

“They call this comet encounter a once-in-a-lifetime event, but it’s more like once-in-a-million years,” said CU-Boulder Associate Professor Nick Schneider, a LASP research associate and lead IUVS scientist for the mission. “MAVEN got there just in time, and we were ready. The numbers suggest a Martian would have seen many thousands of shooting stars per hour -- possibly enough to be called a meteor storm -- so it must have been a spectacular event that night on Mars.”

Elsewhere above Mars, a joint U.S. and Italian instrument on Mars Express observed a huge increase in the density of electrons in the Martian ionosphere following the comet's close approach.

“This historic event allowed us to observe the details of this fast moving Oort Cloud comet in a way never before possible using our existing Mars missions,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “Observing the effects on Mars of the comet's dust slamming into the upper atmosphere makes me very happy that we decided to put our spacecraft on the other side of Mars at the peak of the dust tail passage and out of harms way.”

There are three CU-Boulder undergraduates and two graduate students on the IUVS science team, said Schneider, and there will be a number of additional CU-Boulder students working on MAVEN in the coming years. Currently there are more than 100 students working on research projects at LASP, which provides hands-on training for future careers as engineers and scientists.

In addition to leading science operations, CU-Boulder is spearheading education and public outreach for MAVEN mission, which has contributed roughly $300 million to Colorado’s economy. UC-Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory provided four science instruments for the mission.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the mission. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

For more information about NASA's Mars missions visit www.nasa.gov/mars. For more information on MAVEN visit http://lasp.colorado.edu/home/maven/.

Contact:
Bruce Jakosky, 303-492-8004
bruce.jakosky@lasp.colorado.edu
Nick Schneider, 303-492-7672
nick.schneider@lasp.colorado.edu
Jim Scott, CU-Boulder media relations, 303-492-3114
jim.scott@colorado.edu

Nick Schneider | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.colorado.edu/news/releases/2014/11/07/mars-spacecraft-including-maven-reveal-comet-flyby-effects-martian

Further reports about: Atmosphere CU-Boulder Laboratory MAVEN Mars Martian atmosphere encounter ionosphere ions spacecraft

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht SF State astronomer searches for signs of life on Wolf 1061 exoplanet
20.01.2017 | San Francisco State University

nachricht Molecule flash mob
19.01.2017 | Technische Universität Wien

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Helmholtz International Fellow Award for Sarah Amalia Teichmann

20.01.2017 | Awards Funding

An innovative high-performance material: biofibers made from green lacewing silk

20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery

20.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>