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Upcoming Lecture: Climate Change on Mars- The Case of the Missing Martian Atmosphere

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This artist's concept shows the MAVEN spacecraft with the planet Mars in the background. (Credit: NASA/ Goddard)
This artist’s concept shows the MAVEN spacecraft with the planet Mars in the background. (Credit: NASA/ Goddard)

Several types of evidence from past Mars missions lead us to believe that Mars used to be much different from the dry, cold place we find today.  Ancient gullies and canyons look as if they were carved by flowing water, minerals that can only be made in standing water have been found, and ancient volcanoes of many sizes litter the surface.  Clearly, the atmosphere had to have been thicker and possibly warmer to support so much liquid water on the surface.

What happened?

Because Mars lacks a planetary-sized magnetic field, the solar wind is able to gradually erode its upper atmosphere.  Could a whole atmosphere’s worth of erosion have taken place?  The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission, which was launched on November 18, 2013 and is set to arrive September 21st, should help us explore this possibility.

Jared Espley, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Godard Space Flight Center and a MAVEN team member, will be visiting the Library of Congress on Thursday, September 18th to talk about climate change on Mars and the MAVEN mission.  He notes that the spacecraft won’t actually touch down on the planet, but will dip into its atmosphere, enter an elliptical orbit, and sample the solar wind.  It will examine how the atmosphere is thinning and why water disappeared. Scientists hope that discovering more about how the climate on Mars shifted over long periods of time could offer greater understanding of our changing climate here on Earth.

espleymaven“Climate Change on Mars” is the first program of ST&B’s fall series of lectures.  We hope you will join us for the program on Thursday, September 18th from 11:30am to 12:30pm in the Pickford Theater, James Madison Building, 3rd floor, Library of Congress.

If you cannot make it to the lecture, it will be captured and later broadcast on the Library’s science/technology webcast page and YouTube channel “Topics in Science” playlist in the coming months. In the meantime, you might be interested in viewing Dr. Pamela Conrad’s 2013 program Extraterrestrial Real Estate- Measuring Habitability on Mars with the Curiosity Rover. You can view a recording of the program on the Library’s webcast  page or YouTube channel. Also, NASA scientist Dr. James Garvin visited the Library in 2010 to give a Mars Update- you can view a webcast or YouTube video of his presentation.

For more information about MAVEN, visit the NASA MAVEN mission page.

[Update 12/03/2014- You can view this lecture on the Library’s webcast page and YouTube Channel, Topics in Science playlist.

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