NASA reported today that it had received the first images from its MAVEN Mars probe as the spacecraft orbited the Red Planet. The false-color images, which NASA released Wednesday, September 24th, were taken with MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph instrument when the probe was 22,680 miles above the surface of Mars, according to NASA officials. The pics were snapped just eight hours after establishing an orbit around Mars.
Online description of images
“Blue shows the ultraviolet light from the sun scattered from atomic hydrogen gas in an extended cloud that goes to thousands of kilometers above the planet’s surface,” NASA wrote in an online description of the images.
Green shows a different wavelength of ultraviolet light that is primarily sunlight reflected off of atomic oxygen, showing the smaller oxygen cloud,” the description continued. “Red shows ultraviolet sunlight reflected from the planet’s surface; the bright spot in the lower right is light reflected either from polar ice or clouds.”
More about MAVEN Mars probe
NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) mission is the first in-depth study of the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere. MAVEN will use three onboard instrument suites to measure gases escape into space, trying to shed light on why Mars lost most of its atmosphere over time. Scientists tell us that the planet’s atmosphere was relatively thick millions of years ago, but is now barely 1% as dense as the atmosphere of Earth.
MAVEN’s observations are designed to help astrophysicists better understand how and why Mars changed from a warmer, wetter world hundreds of millions of years ago to the cold, dry planet of today, according to NASA.
The spacecraft is currently undertaking a commissioning phase, in which MAVEN will be adjusted into its final orbit followed by a complete run down on the operating status of all its science gear. The Mars probe’s one-year-long science mission is not scheduled to actually begin early November of this year.