FEB 03, 2020 3:03 PM PST

How NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft is Studying Mars' Ionosphere

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

If you ever listen to the radio and experience a phenomenon in which the broadcast sounds garbled or as if another radio station is attempting to play over yours, then you’ve likely experienced something called a Sporadic-E Layer. In a nutshell, this is a concentration of plasma residing in Earth’s ionosphere that behaves much like a mirror for radio transmissions that occur between them and the ground.

Studying Sporadic-E Layers on Earth is a challenge because they transpire at altitudes where the air is much too thin to fly an aircraft, and conversely, much too thick to orbit a spacecraft. That said, the rather troublesome circumstances have compelled NASA to study the phenomenon on another planet where the ionosphere isn’t as thick, and this makes Mars a great target for such observations.

With the help of an instrument called Static on NASA’s MAVEN Martian orbiter, the American space agency is able to study Sporadic-E Layer activity in the red planet’s ionosphere. Static has been specially designed to measure plasma escaping from Mars’ ionosphere, and because the air there is so much thinner, MAVEN is able to orbit without the risk of deorbiting as a similar spacecraft would here on Earth.

While studying these atmospheric plasma occurrences on Mars, scientists took notice that they were somewhat predictable, if not permanent. This behavior contrasts greatly to that of Earth, where plasma occurrences are sporadic and seemingly unpredictable.

Given just how little we know about ionospheric plasma, MAVEN promises to unlock secrets that we only could have imagined studying here on Earth. Isn’t science grand?

Related: What exactly happened to Mars' atmosphere?

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
OCT 22, 2019
Space & Astronomy
OCT 22, 2019
Here's What We Know So Far About Titan's Liquid Methane Oceans
Titan is perhaps one of the most captivating moons orbiting Saturn today; so much so that astronomers spent a lot of time studying it when the Cassini miss...
NOV 03, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 03, 2019
Could the Successful Juno Mission See an Extension Beyond 2021?
The Juno mission, launched by NASA in 2011 to explore the fascinating Jovian system, finally arrived at its destination in 2016. Since then, the spacecraft...
DEC 09, 2019
Clinical & Molecular DX
DEC 09, 2019
Astronauts help to advanced personalized medicine
Extreme temperatures and lethal levels of radiation are just some of the hazards faced by astronauts as they traverse the harsh conditions of space. Additi...
DEC 22, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 22, 2019
Boeing Launches Botched Starliner Demo Mission for NASA
Boeing finally moved forward with the initial un-crewed test launch of its Starliner Commercial Crew spacecraft for NASA at the end of this past week follo...
JAN 06, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 06, 2020
How Much Do You Know About Mars?
Humankind is getting closer to the ultimate goal of sending humans to Mars for scientific research, and then eventually colonization later down the line. B...
JAN 19, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 19, 2020
A Brief Summary of Everything We Know About Pluto
Pluto was once considered one of the solar system’s planets but was later downgraded to the status of ‘dwarf’ planet after several more s...
Loading Comments...