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NASA Plans Mission To Study Martian Atmosphere

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the say-hi-to-marvin dept.

Mars 61

An anonymous reader writes "Since the atmospheric blanket of Mars is fast disappearing, NASA is planning a mission to Mars in 2013 to study the Red Planet further. The $400-million plus project named the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) will investigate how Mars lost most of its atmosphere. This will be critical in understanding whether there has been life there or not."

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61 comments

You may not know this but... (4, Funny)

multiben (1916126) | more than 3 years ago | (#33820550)

A fact that not many people know is humans used to live on Mars. We fucked that place up and came to Earth.

Re:You may not know this but... (2, Funny)

retech (1228598) | more than 3 years ago | (#33820608)

Wow, and here I thought Tom Cruise only posted on Oprah's website and a Scientology blog. I am honoured to have you here on /.! (Tag that last sentence with sarcasm please.)

Re:You may not know this but... (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 3 years ago | (#33821138)

You know, he may be a few crackers short in his chili but that makes me think of something I've been wondering for awhile: Why are we not seriously trying to Terraform Mars? The first country to terraform Mars is gonna have their own planet full of resources to rule, it is the closest and by far the easiest to Terraform (has water, air, decent gravity, etc) and I'm sure even if we made it a one way trip there would be tons of hearty folks that would give their left nut to go. so why not send one ship with some greenhouse building supplies, seeds, maybe a couple of chickens, and let them give it a shot?

It seems the way we are blowing through resources and the fact that the population of this rock ain't getting any smaller that putting boots on the ground is our best shot for actually getting off this rock and slowly conquering space. Hell we could probably get the major corps to buy promo time on the trip (The first soft drink on another planet! drink coke!) to offset a nice chunk of the cost. It seems like a win/win to me. As for TFA I still think until we have boots on the ground we'll never know for sure, as it is just too vast and any life that might still survive would most likely be underground. And I'm talking mold level life, not Tome Cruise, although the both seem slimy to me.

Re:You may not know this but... (4, Informative)

RsG (809189) | more than 3 years ago | (#33821220)

Why are we not seriously trying to Terraform Mars?

Because we do not have the capability to do so, and aren't likely to in the foreseeable future. Read up on some of the non-fictional assessments of what making Mars livable would entail.

When and if we do get such capabilities, terraforming will still take a very, very long time. A realistic estimate is at least a century of continuous effort to put a breathable atmosphere in place, and frankly, that's optimistic. We'd need infrastructure in the rest of the solar system in place first, to supply the resources needed, specifically to thicken the Martian atmosphere, add a liquid hydrosphere and make the introduction of life possible. I doubt we can get that infrastructure in place from where we are now without many decades and countless trillions devoted to doing so, and that isn't even stage one of the terraforming process, it's stage zero.

Put another way, with the resources it would take to make Mars habitable, we could easily fix most of our current problems here on Earth, regarding climate, resource scarcity, energy and ecology. After all, it's the same problems in both cases. And we'll never, ever be able to move a significant portion of our population to Mars even if the planet could support life; a spacecraft carrying a thousand colonists would be an amazing feat of engineering, and ten rounds trips would move less than a hundred thousandth of the current world population.

Re:You may not know this but... (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 3 years ago | (#33822438)

I agree, I think making a magnetosphere to protect any atmosphere you manufacture might also be classed as “a bit fucking hard”. :) But it is a good question. How to you get a planets core moving again?

Re:You may not know this but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33823274)

How to you get a planets core moving again?

Well first you need some unobtanium, and then a big laser, and some nuclear bombs. It's really all spelled out for you [wikipedia.org] , just do some research first, sheesh...

Re:You may not know this but... (1)

raistlinwolf (1365893) | more than 3 years ago | (#33823330)

You make a big ring surrounding the planet, and when it is completed you can remove the support pillars so that it floats. Then maybe you could make a transformer by winding a conductor around it... Mars is a good candidate because you don't have as much terrain sticking up in the air.

Re:You may not know this but... (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | more than 3 years ago | (#33827734)

Mars is a good candidate because you don't have as much terrain sticking up in the air.

Huh. Olympus Mons on Mars is the tallest known mountain in the solar system with the peak being 17 miles above the mean surface level on Mars. I'd say that's a lot of terrain sticking up in the air.

Re:You may not know this but... (1)

slashdotwannabe (938257) | more than 3 years ago | (#33835890)

Huh. Olympus Mons on Mars is the tallest known mountain in the solar system with the peak being 17 miles above the mean surface level on Mars.

Yea, um, we're planning on going around it...

Re:You may not know this but... (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 3 years ago | (#33858118)

See, I knew it would be easier to get the core spinning again!!!

Re:You may not know this but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33824624)

http://www.ess.washington.edu/Space/PlasmaMag/

To intercept a relevant amount of thrust for a spacecraft mi ssion (0.1 - 1 N), a barrier to the solar wind must be 4-10 km in radius. One possible barrier is a magnetic field of 50nT at or beyond 4 km. To create such a field using an electromagnet re quires very large-scale engineering, for example a circular electromagnet 300m in radius carryi ng 105 amp-turns. While such an electromagnet is not impossible, it would likely be so massive that the relatively modest thrust coupled from the solar wind would provide accelera tion too slow to be of interest. To keep the mass of the system low and thus yield a concept th at is applicable to a near-term spacecraft demonstration (few 100 kg spacecraft mass, few kW power ), the \223RMD/Plasma Magnet\224 has been proposed.

http://engineering.dartmouth.edu/~Simon_G_Shepherd/research/Shielding/docs/Slough-2_I-final.pdf

So, it's *possible* to create relatively large magnetic fields. There are technical solutions to these problems. Of course, we don't need to use them anytime soon.

Re:You may not know this but... (2, Insightful)

knarf (34928) | more than 3 years ago | (#33822954)

100 years is nothing of course. If the space race had not been about a dick size contest between two political powers but about real scientific progress those rain makers might have been pumping out gases on mars for almost half of that period by now. To a single person it might seem a daunting proposition to put effort into something which is not going to pay of before he or she is dead or gone but nevertheless this is done time and time again - just ask any middle-aged forest owner if he expects to be around to harvest those saplings he just put so much effort into planting last year.

Re:You may not know this but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33823884)

They estimate that the Martian polar ice caps contain enough water to cover the entire planet to a depth of eleven inches (ignoring the fact that the planet isn't uniform in height). Thicken the atmosphere enough, the hydrosphere will take care of itself. If we could thicken it with nitrogen and carbon dioxide, then everything else practically falls into place.

Of course, if we had the technology to move that kind of mass around the solar system, we'd also have the technology to move a lot of people to Mars when it was ready.

Re:You may not know this but... (1)

atisss (1661313) | more than 3 years ago | (#33827716)

Now why did you had to spoil our imaginations? Why why ;(

Anyway, having some colonists on mars, and terraforming it would ensure that no single catastrophic event could kill all humanity. With the exception of blewing up whole solar system of course :)

Then we would be allowed to fuck up one planet and learn from mistakes.
For example I doubt that mars colonists would burn carbon based fuel in it's atmosphere.. There's simply none of it there. So, colonization would initially be cleaner.

Re:You may not know this but... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33821608)

Leftists will throw every excuse they can think of to dissuade people from pursuing this, because they derive their power from perpetuating scarcity and fragile earth crisis mongering.

Re:You may not know this but... (1)

eyenot (102141) | more than 3 years ago | (#33823050)

Leftists will throw every excuse they can think of to dissuade people from pursuing this, because they derive their power from perpetuating scarcity and fragile earth crisis mongering.

Persuing grand projects of space travel do exactly that, they waste resources and impact our environment, and for what? To look at air? Last I knew, you could study atmospheres in detail from light years away just by looking at their light. I smell pork, and there's another wasteful thing no matter who's chucking it.

Re:You may not know this but... (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#33824116)

You can't do this science from the ground. You can get an idea of composition and density from spectrographic data, but the noise is too high to capture any of the dynamic properties. The main purpose of MAVEN is to study atmosphere evolution, which involves the rate at which volatiles are leaving the atmosphere, and how those rates relate to geography and the solar cycle. And its not just these things that we don't know -- its as basic as what the density is at a given region. Previous Mars missions have been surprised to find the atmospheric densities off by a factor of 4 from what was expected in the past, and this mission will also hopefully refine those models.

And in case you think understanding Mars' atmosphere isn't worth the cost for its own sake, it helps us understand our own atmosphere and climate better, which has very real and relavent impacts on daily life, from better weather predictions to lending more data to the climate debate.

NASA typically suffers from not having enough money, and unmanned missions don't typically have congress meddling in how they're run -- if this wasn't valuable other missions would have won the funding instead.

(Full disclosure: I work on this mission.)

Re:You may not know this but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33825188)

up this post for obvious reasons

Re:You may not know this but... (1)

INeededALogin (771371) | more than 3 years ago | (#33833182)

undo bad mod

Re:You may not know this but... (2, Insightful)

eyenot (102141) | more than 3 years ago | (#33822924)

We haven't terraformed Mars because the exact way to get it done has not been predicted, yet.

You should grab any hard-sci fi anthology on terraforming and/or Mars and look into it. Some fairly serious scientists write some of these short stories and put a lot of truly scientific effort into it. One guy who works somewhere in the space-related fields wrote a story detailing how it would be more or less truly impossible to build Mars an atmosphere conducive to human life for reasons related to gravity.

I think we should all be seriously disillusioned about terraforming and all heavy space industry in general. If you'd like a fuller opinion on it, read my essay "Space Travel: Unfit for Humanity". :) http://eyenot.livejournal.com/1009497.html [livejournal.com]

SF: it's actually not rocket science... (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 3 years ago | (#33823936)

We haven't terraformed Mars because the exact way to get it done has not been predicted, yet.

You should grab any hard-sci fi anthology on terraforming and/or Mars and look into it. ...

While I don't want to dissuade you from reading science fiction about terraforming, I will point out that science fiction really is not the best way to learn about real science. We science fiction writers make stuff up in order to make a good plot. In particular, SF writers often make up magical technology, in order to make terraforming happen at a rate faster than geological time scales.

Best way to learn about terraforming would be to read Martyn Fogg's book Terraforming: Engineering Planetary Environments (SAE Press). A few years old now, but still the best top level summary ever. ...and, as for science fiction, try Gardner Dozois' anthology Worldmakers: SF Adventures in Terraforming [amazon.com] . (I only say this because I have a story in it.)

Re:You may not know this but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33823106)

You know, he may be a few crackers short in his chili but that makes me think of something I've been wondering for awhile: Why are we not seriously trying to Terraform Mars? The first country to terraform Mars is gonna have their own planet full of resources to rule...

Rule how exactly? Without enforcement, property claims mean nothing. After terraforming, the first wave of settlers will be rolled over by anyone that spent their precious lift mass on arms instead of terraforming equipment. If they are lucky they'll be herded to a reservation around the historic first colony site. On Mars there are no witnesses.

Re:You may not know this but... (2, Interesting)

anUnhandledException (1900222) | more than 3 years ago | (#33823750)

The first country to terraform mars doesn't own it. The country with the biggest guns owns it.

As to the reason why we haven't tried.
1) land on earth is still relatively cheap. Maybe when the population on earth is 30 billion, and we are suffering the aftermath of a limited nuclear exchange, all fish is vat cloned because oceans are too polluted then maybe the economics is different.

2) Until we get a space elevator it is prohibitively expensive to put things into even geo transfer orbit much less shooting them all the way to mars, and then landing them. Cost to GTO is about $50K per kg. Cost to mars is hard to quantify but say somewhere in the ballpark of $500K per kg of payload (including cost of lander). 2 tons to bars is about one billion in transit cost. To terraform mars anytime in next 100K years would require thousands of tons of equipment at costs running into the trillions.

3) Uncertainty and time.
Even if enough financial resources were devoted it would take thousands more like tens of thousands of years to terraform Mars. Most countries & companies don't last that long. Say the US spends $20 trillion to terraform mars. By the time it is done the US no longer even exists and the people who didn't spend resources on terraforming benefit.

4) Might makes right. There is no guarantee the country who terraforms mars will claim it. Imagine two countries. One spends $20T on terraforming Mars. The other spends $20T on warfare and just takes Mars (and space elevator, and orbital construction yards) etc.

Simply put there is no risk vs reward. Someday in 100 years or 1000 years when we are closer to a global govt (maybe somethings like the EU but globally) you could see a situation where global resources are put towards this global goal.

Re:You may not know this but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33820698)

Who fucking cares if there was life on Mars? Waste of tax money in a FUCKING recession. This is only going to benifit space contractors. but I'll be modded down for this because the truth hurts

Re:You may not know this but... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33820722)

Na we totally were on Venus and global warming went crazy there. We just didn't learn. Are you people ready for crazy high pressures?!?! It's coming! Any century now...

Re:You may not know this but... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33820766)

Turns out trucking all the water to the polar ice caps to create the biggest frozen t-shirt contest ever WASNT a good idea after all.

Re:You may not know this but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33822626)

Also we brought all the dino bones and put it inside the soil - just to mess up the paleontologists ..
gu hahahh

Re:You may not know this but... (1)

Jason Levine (196982) | more than 3 years ago | (#33824752)

You joke, but last night on Bad Universe on the Discovery channel, Phil Plait was talking about the Martian meteorite that was found in the Antarctic. They showed an electron microscope scan of a region that looked like a cell undergoing mitosis. If this is really Martian life, it would be older than any life on Earth. In fact, it would be possible that life originated on Mars and seeded Earth. We could all really be Martians! (Yes, all speculative at this point, but fun to think about.)

Yes but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33820556)

who will study the Martian Assmosphere?

Re:Yes but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33823348)

why not study the gases in ur anus first?

magnicks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33820570)

I thought it was because you need a good magnetic field to stop the solar wind from stripping off teh air.

Re:magnicks (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33821562)

I remember reading a paper a few years back on what it would take to create an artificial magnetic field on earth to replace our own if it were ever to become necessary.

Basically a dozen superconducting rings around the planet spaced evenly between latitudes would be all that would be needed.

Each ring requires about 1GW -- the output of a nuclear reactor to power (mostly cooling to keep below transistion temperature). On earth it's obviously a lot of work from an engineering perspective but not impossible to implement if it ever became necessary... God help us if an an entire ring ever decided to quench.

Doing the same for mars would be a massive logistical undertaking with current technology but perhaps not beyond the realm of possibility as a very long term project. Assuming a breakthru in room temperature superconductivity it would make things much much easier.

Geothermal energy (2, Interesting)

turing_m (1030530) | more than 3 years ago | (#33820596)

It's for these sort of reasons that I'm very sceptical about making large scale use of geothermal energy. If we eventually start solidifying magma as a result of the heat extraction and the earth loses its magnetic field as a result, say goodbye to the nice atmosphere and radiation protection we have now.

Re:Geothermal energy (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33820610)

In a couple of billion years, maybe. But even now we could probably make our own magnetic field. And for that matter we could directly manufacture a new atmosphere if loss into space became a problem.

Re:Geothermal energy (1)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 3 years ago | (#33820636)

Right, and tidal plants stop the tide.
I think you are going across some orders of magnitude here.

Although it was previously thought that a tidally locked planet (or one without a magnetic field) would have their atmosphere taken away, studies have shown that without the solar storm would induce a magnetic field protecting the atmosphere within one hour.

Re:Geothermal energy (1)

feepness (543479) | more than 3 years ago | (#33820656)

studies have shown that without the solar storm would induce a magnetic field protecting the atmosphere within one hour.

Huh. I would have thought they through the wind in at least.

Re:Geothermal energy (1)

eyenot (102141) | more than 3 years ago | (#33822852)

Weather they thawed it threw or not, it heat lossy in the atmospheres.

Re:Geothermal energy (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 3 years ago | (#33822952)

That... doesn't make sense.

Earth generates its heat through radioactive decay of elements like U-238. That decay will happen whether we use the energy or not. The only question is how much we route the heat flow through our systems and how much of it goes to driving volcanoes and plate tectonics, as far as I can see. Earth produces about 2-3 times as much energy as we (as a civilization) use, so if we got all of our energy from geothermal, we'd be in trouble. However, the Earth also receives about (let's see if I can convert correctly) about 6000 times MORE energy from the Sun than we generate internally, so we've got lots of other options. (Most forms of alternative energy tap the solar energy in one form or another.)

Re:Geothermal energy (1)

FrigBot (1459361) | more than 3 years ago | (#33824766)

This guy might be wrong, but I don't think he's a troll. Fuck's sakes.

Hmmmz... (1)

santax (1541065) | more than 3 years ago | (#33820614)

Maybe they can send Bruce McCandless to go check it out for us?

Re:Hmmmz... (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33820634)

...since a pressure suit is his preferred means of travel. Definitely a cheap way to go.

They better hurry (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33820668)

I hope they make it in time before it all disappears.

Fast disappearing ? (3, Informative)

mbone (558574) | more than 3 years ago | (#33820682)

Fast disappearing ? I think it has a few billion years to go, 100 million years would be a low estimate. Heck, Phobos will crash in only a few million years, and even that .is considerably longer than NASA's time horizon

Re:Fast disappearing ? (1)

l0b0 (803611) | more than 3 years ago | (#33822012)

More like "There will not be humans then."

O__O (1)

monkyyy (1901940) | more than 3 years ago | (#33820684)

y haven't they been since it was first suggested life "could have" lived there? O__o

A better mission (2, Funny)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 3 years ago | (#33820762)

We need to rescue Spirit and Opportunity. Loyalty should count for something.

Re:A better mission (1)

Vorghagen (1154761) | more than 3 years ago | (#33820894)

We need to rescue Spirit and Opportunity. Loyalty should count for something.

http://xkcd.com/695/ [xkcd.com] It should count, but doesn't.

$400 million. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33820804)

This will be critical in understanding whether there has been life on Mars or not."

This will be critical in bringing pork to constituents and keep the unemployment stats down.

What am I missing? (2, Funny)

glwtta (532858) | more than 3 years ago | (#33820838)

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission: MAVEN?

Re:What am I missing? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33820884)

The N comes from the end of "Evolution". Mission is not a part of the acronym.

Re:What am I missing? (1)

radtea (464814) | more than 3 years ago | (#33823732)

The N comes from the end of "Evolution".

If they're going to randomly pull letters to make the acronym anything they feel like they're opening up a real can of worms:

mArS atmoSphere and vOlatiLe Evolution Mission
Mars Atmosphere anD VOlatiLe Evolution Mission ...

The possibilities are endless, and meaningless, and irritating.

Is it just me, or is this use of weird acronyms a particularly American thing? I'm thinking of things like the PATRIOT Act, FIRST Robitics, and so on.

I find it equally annoying when applied to things I approve of (MAVEN, FIRST) and things I don't (PATRIOT), so I don't think my response is just anti-Americanism (assuming this really is an American thing, and there aren't British, Canadian, French, etc equivalents I'm woefully ignorant of.)

Re:What am I missing? (1)

zoso1132 (1303697) | more than 3 years ago | (#33824688)

From "Augustine's Laws," written a few decades ago... "The Defense Marketing Survey has stated that it has compiled a list of over one million acronyms which are in common usage in defense matters alone. These acronyms consist principally of 'words' made up of five or fewer letters. Since the number of five-letter (or less) acronyms that can be formed with the English alphabet is no more than about 14 million, it can be seen that nearly 10 percent of all possible reasonable acronyms have already been used up." (lulz) The American aerospace industry is very acronym happy. I can't speak for the rest of the world, though a quick read of Aviation Week will confirm that it's widespread... But just because you CAN pull out random letters doesn't mean you SHOULD.

Re:What am I missing? (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#33836778)

They are helpful though. Maven pays my bills right now, and i would feel incredibly goofy calling it MAVEM or MAO (mars atmosphere orbiter) during our discussions. This one doesn't feel especially contrived, more like they came up with a name and found an easily said acronym that fit with it. Also a good name makes sure it doesn't face trouble in congress or the media.

That and to be honest I didn't really notice that it didn't match up until now, even though I've been working on it for three months...

Re:What am I missing? (1)

Dabido (802599) | more than 3 years ago | (#33834316)

No wonder you posted as 'Anonymous Coward'. You read the article rather than just the summary, didn't you!!!!!!!

Re:What am I missing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33822478)

lol that would be Nission not Mission.

Try: Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN

WHAT?????? (1)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 3 years ago | (#33821064)

They're going to Mars to study AIR? That's ridiculous! Thank Lord Jesus we have the teabaggers to put a stop to this. It's ridiculous that they would go to Mars to study air. Everyone knows that Mars doesn't exist. What a waste of taxpayer money. It's a socialism and Muslim waste of money. NASA is probably just doing it to make Barack Obama look good. What next? Will they build a mosque on Mars too? Has Glen Beck cried about this outrage yet?

Life was found on Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33821098)

already a few times. No?

Re:Life was found on Mars (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 3 years ago | (#33823954)

already a few times. No?

That's correct: no.

News? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33822878)

Uh, they selected this mission a few years ago. Someone in the media just found out about it? I mean, it's great to see good press and all, but it's even better when the media is vaguely on the ball with these things.

"atmospheric blanket of Mars is fast disappearing" (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 3 years ago | (#33822946)

Yeah, we'd better hurry. Another billion years and it will be almost gone.

no life anywhere but on Earth (1)

noshellswill (598066) | more than 3 years ago | (#33824358)

It's good to investigate Martian geography and weather. We should know these things. Humans are better people because of it. But nothing has ever lived on Mars. Nothing nada nix nyet nein. Until we put life there. Same with the rest of the Universe. Nothing is alive except humans. On earth. Alone. Forever ... no Princess Leia no jedi knights no Flash Gordon. No feckin-A Romulins. Ever. Anywhere. Anywhere except earth. We are special --- the Universe center. All else is dead. Forever. Learn to live alone. We have aeons to practice.
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