NASA’s MAVEN mission, launched on November 18th, 2013, has been orbiting Mars and investigating the planet’s features for more than half a decade. In that time, a special sensor called the Neutral Gas Ion Mass Spectrometer (NGIMS) has been hanging low beneath the spacecraft and measuring wind currents in some of the highest reaches of the red planet’s atmosphere.
Thanks to MAVEN’s NGIMS, scientists accrued enough data to create a global map of Mars’ wind currents, and they did so at such a surprisingly high altitude. In doing so, these same scientists found intriguing correlations between Mars’ wind currents and surface features, including but not limited to high-rising mountains and volcanoes.
As the scientists put it, Mars’ winds are forced to move over and around these rough surface features, which creates a staggered wind flow. These effects are observable into Mars’ upper atmospheric layers, and it’s not until a specific point high in the air that the planet’s gravity overpowers these winds that these staggering currents begin to flatten out and alter their force.
NASA touts these findings as some of the most detailed in the solar system, apart from Earth’s of course, and for that reason, we’re closer than ever to understanding Mars and how it compares to our own planet.
Related: Can we terraform Mars?