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Waspie_Dwarf

Opening a Window to Mars' Past

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MAVEN Spectrometer Opens Window to Red Planet’s Past

When NASA’s MAVEN mission begins its journey to the Red Planet later this year, it will be equipped with a special instrument to take the planet back in time.

That instrument is the Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer, a network of electrically charged rods that will measure the charged gas particles—or ions—making up Mars’ upper atmosphere.

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MAVEN Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer

While NASA rovers, landers, and orbiters have scrutinized the surface of Mars for decades, a key question to understanding the Red Planet's ancient habitability has hitherto gone unanswered: what happened to its atmosphere? NASA's MAVEN spacecraft will fill in this gap in the history of Mars, thanks in part to its Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer, or NGIMS instrument. By studying the interaction of neutral gases and ions with the solar wind, NGIMS will observe current atmospheric escape processes on Mars and allow scientists to extrapolate back to the ancient atmosphere. The results could tell scientists just how long Mars was warm, wet, and hospitable, refining our understanding of its early potential for life.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Source: NASA Goddard - Multimedia

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