The Red Planet is getting crowded this week.
The Indian Mars orbiter sattelite, nicknamed MOM, joined NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission (MAVEN) spacecraft in the Martian sky on Wednesday, marking the success of India’s first attempt to send a craft to another planet. MAVEN went into orbit only two days earlier than the Indian Space Research Organisation’s craft.
MAVEN and MOM will both relay data about the composition of the Martian atmosphere back to Earth while NASA’s Opportunity and Curiosity rovers continue to roll across the surface.
The two satellites will also study how the atmosphere has changed over time. Evidence found on Mars in the form of lake- and river-like geological features indicates that water once existed on the planet’s surface. Studying the sky will help researchers understand where that water went, and whether or not it had to do with the longevity of a thick, protective atmosphere.
Earth’s own atmosphere keeps water from boiling away or freezing solid, something that seems to be missing on Mars.
MOM will circle Mars for a year, mapping the surface and searching for signs of methane, which could allow the planet to support life. MAVEN will document the upper layers of the Martian atmosphere, relaying data about its composition and interactions with solar wind and sunlight.
Prior to MOM’s arrival, NASA had five crafts exploring Mars: MAVEN, the Mars Odyssey and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in the sky, and the rovers Curiosity and Opportunity on the surface. The European Space Agency’s Mars Express Rover is collecting high resolution images and ground-penetrating radar data.
The Mars 2020 Rover, scheduled to be launched in its titular year, will also feature ground-penetrating radar technology, which transmits high-frequency, polarized radio waves into the ground to view geologic data and construct an image of the subsurface. The same technology was used in recent discoveries on Earth, like the dozens of monuments found buried in the earth around Stonehenge.
“Ground penetrating radar will help to find out about the geological makeups of the sub-surface areas, this has the potential to help locate water and more by detecting voids in the subsurface. The big benefit of using GPR is allowing these rovers to see underneath the surface easily and efficiently,” says Stanley Phillip Wood Sr., President, Wood Inspection Services, Inc.
With the data that these craft are collecting on our planetary neighbor, it may not be as long as people think before someone else takes a second giant leap for mankind.