Category Archives: MAVEN

Dodging a Moon

We hear about moving  the International Space Station to dodge space junk,  but who would have thought a spacecraft having to dodge a moon? Well it happened, the MAVEN spacecraft has had to make an unscheduled maneuver to avoid a moon.

From NASA:

The Mars Atmosphere and VolatileEvolutioN (MAVEN)spacecraft has been orbiting Mars for just over two years, studying the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind. On Tuesday the spacecraft carried out a rocket motor burn that boosted its velocity by 0.4 meters per second (less than 1 mile per hour). Although a small correction, it was enough that — projected to one week later when the collision would otherwise have occurred — MAVEN would miss the lumpy, crater-filled moon by about 2.5 minutes.

This is the first collision avoidance maneuver that the MAVEN spacecraft has performed at Mars to steer clear of Phobos. The orbits of both MAVEN and Phobos are known well enough that this timing difference ensures that they will not collide.

MAVEN, with an elliptical orbit around Mars, has an orbit that crosses those of other spacecraft and the moon Phobos many times over the course of a year.  When the orbits cross, the objects have the possibility of colliding if they arrive at that intersection at the same time. These scenarios are known well in advance and are carefully monitored by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, which sounded the alert regarding the possibility of a collision.

With one week’s advance notice, it looked like MAVEN and Phobos had a good chance of hitting each other on Monday, March 6, arriving at their orbit crossing point within about 7 seconds of each other. Given Phobos’ size (modeled for simplicity as a 30-kilometer sphere, a bit larger than the actual moon in order to be conservative), they had a high probability of colliding if no action were taken.

Said MAVEN Principal Investigator Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado in Boulder, “Kudos to the JPL navigation and tracking teams for watching out for possible collisions every day of the year, and to the MAVEN spacecraft team for carrying out the maneuver flawlessly.”

MAVEN’s principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, Boulder. The university provided two science instruments and leads science operations, as well as education and public outreach, for the mission. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the MAVEN project and provided two science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. The University of California at Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory also provided four science instruments for the mission. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, provides navigation and Deep Space Network support, as well as the Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.

 Image: Lockheed Martin

Ultraviolet Aurora on Mars

Image Credit: University of Colorado
Image Credit: University of Colorado

The MAVEN spacecraft using the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph observed a bright ultraviolet auroral glow around Mars’ northern hemisphere for five days in December 2014.

“What’s especially surprising about the aurora we saw is how deep in the atmosphere it occurs – much deeper than at Earth or elsewhere on Mars,” said Arnaud Stiepen, IUVS team member at the University of Colorado. “The electrons producing it must be really energetic.”

The aurora here on Earth, like the stunning display of 18 March (and one I missed due to sky conditions) is caused by energetic particles hitting the upper atmosphere and causing gasses to glow. The Martian aurora is also thought to be the Sun, however since Mars has lost it’s protective magnetic field the particles can directly hit the atmosphere.

MAVEN’s Solar Energetic Particle instrument detected a surge in energetic electrons at the onset of the aurora.

It will be very interesting to see if this is repeated following the recent display here and it may not be depending on whether or not Mars is in the path of the solar ejecta.

In the mean time keep an eye on the sky as the Sun is starting to pick up in activity or so it would seem.

For the latest summary of current solar conditions you can check out the WWV text alerts,  paying attention to the K index and the lines at the end as in following sample from 18 March:

:Product: Geophysical Alert Message wwv.txt
:Issued: 2015 Mar 18 2105 UTC
# Prepared by the US Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, Space Weather Prediction Center
# Geophysical Alert Message
Solar-terrestrial indices for 18 March follow.
Solar flux 115 and estimated planetary A-index 45.
The estimated planetary K-index at 2100 UTC on 18 March was 5.

Space weather for the past 24 hours has been severe.
Geomagnetic storms reaching the G4 level occurred.
Radio blackouts reaching the R1 level occurred.

Space weather for the next 24 hours is predicted to be minor.
Geomagnetic storms reaching the G1 level are expected.

If you are a ham radio operator or have a shortwave radio you can also hear these messages on WWV at  10 and 15 MHZ.  WWV (and sister stations) can be heard on other frequencies, these two frequencies are probably the best all around choices.

About WWV


By studying ions, or small electrically charged particles, in and above the Martian atmosphere, the Solar Wind Ion Analyzer on board the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission may provide clues to why the Martian atmosphere has gradually been lost.

The MAVEN fact sheet.


MAVEN Launch Replay

In case you didn’t get to see it “live”. I did BTW, sadly I was not where I could get on the site.

I was also asked about the name and what does the “N” at the end of MAVEN stand for, thinking I forgot to include part of the name: Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution. It does seem to be missing something and I AM quite capable of missing/omitting/mis-spelling (etc) something. Just not in this case:

MAVEN: Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN


Send a Message to Mars

The public is invited to be a part of the MAVEN mission.  Image: courtesy Lockheed Martin via CU/LASP
The public is invited to be a part of the MAVEN mission. Image: courtesy Lockheed Martin via CU/LASP

NASA is getting ready to launch a new spacecraft to Mars. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft (MAVEN) mission will study the upper atmosphere of Mars. Like some of the other missions of late, NASA is inviting the public to be involved in a fun way.

A DVD is going to be produced with the names of as many people as sign up by July 1, 2013. The DVD is part of the Going to Mars Campaign and is coordinated at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (CU/LASP).

You can send your name to be included on the DVD and you can print out a certificate as proof. Plus if you are so inclined you can submit a three line poem or haiku that will need to undergo a selection process where only three will be selected. The press release says only three haikus, I assume they mean poems too. I could be wrong but I consider them distinct and therefore different because of the sturcture. I am more of a limrick kind of guy, no, I’m going there and besides a proper limerick has five lines. The selections will be judged online so the bar will be high but not out of reach for the creative among you, give it a go.

Submit your name at the Going to Mars with Maven website

Learn more about MAVEN.

Can you say “what a great science-fair project this would be”? Oh to be in school again, this would have made life so easy! Oh well.

The details from NASA are in a press release below and be sure to check out the list of players at the end. I am always pleased to see different (and very fine I might add) educational institutions working together. I dunno, I just am – it’s great.

WASHINGTON — NASA is inviting members of the public to submit their names and a personal message online for a DVD to be carried aboard a spacecraft that will study the Martian upper atmosphere.

The DVD will be in NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft, which is scheduled for launch in November. The DVD is part of the mission’s Going to Mars Campaign coordinated at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (CU/LASP).

The DVD will carry every name submitted. The public also is encouraged to submit a message in the form of a three-line poem, or haiku. However, only three haikus will be selected. The deadline for all submissions is July 1. An online public vote to determine the top three messages to be placed on the DVD will begin July 15.
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