Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (Maven) space probe launched by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in November 2013 has entered the orbit of Mars on Sept. 21.
With the help of Maven, NASA aims to observe the atmosphere of Mars while orbiting the Red Planet. Maven is expected to establish how water and atmosphere on Mars, which is presumed to be significant, disappeared over time.
NASA scientists suggest that Maven will be the first Mars probe to analyze the planet's upper atmosphere. Scientists plan that Maven will test its instruments over the next six weeks and then enter into the final elliptical orbit of Mars. The probe will also study the gases present in Mars' atmosphere and the rate they escape in the outer space. NASA scientists hope that data collected by Maven will give them more understanding of the planet's climate and find if Mars once supported any form of life.
"MAVEN is another NASA robotic scientific explorer that is paving the way for our journey to Mars," says Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Together, robotics and humans will pioneer the Red Planet and the solar system to help answer some of humanity's fundamental questions about life beyond Earth."
Scientists have long believed that life beyond Earth may exist or may have existed in the past. For decades scientists have tried to understand the possibility of life on Mars. Scientists across the world suspect that Mars had not always been a cold and dry desert as it is today. NASA's Mariner 4 spacecraft was the first to speculate that Mars' surface may contain liquid, which ignited further exploration of the planet.
Maven is not the first orbiter to observe Mars. NASA's Mars Odyssey is orbiting the Red Planet since 2001 and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is also circling the planet to get valuable information since 2006. The European Space Agency's (ESA's) Mars Express orbiter is also studying the planet and the Mars Orbiter Mission launched by Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), which is also expected to observe various aspects of the Martian atmosphere, is also expected to enter the planet's atmosphere soon.
The Maven mission, which costs about $671 million, is expected to last for around a year and during this time the orbiter will transmit valuable information to the Earth.
Check out a short video about the Maven mission released by NASA.