The MAVEN probe successfully completed first “Deep Dip” campaign!

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Orbiting the red planet since September 22, 2014, and after several weeks of testing the embedded instruments among which SWEA (Solar Wind Electron Analyzer) designed by a team of IRAP (Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse and CNRS), the NASA MAVEN probe (Mars atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) has just completed successfully its first “dive” into the Martian atmosphere. Objective: To collect scientific data on the whole of the upper atmosphere in order to better understand the atmospheric escape processes and thus to trace the evolution of the past Martian climate.

The MAVEN probe embarks various scientific instruments whose collected data will lead to better know the composition and the density of the upper Martian atmosphere and ionosphere as well as their interactions with the solar radiation and the solar wind, and therefore the exhaust process of the Martian atmosphere into space. To this end, the probe regularly orbits with altitudes ranging between 150 and 6200 km.

Five “diving into the atmosphere” (“deep dip”) campaigns to about 120 km of the surface are also scheduled. Objective: To perform measurements on the entire Martian upper atmosphere, whose density varies by a factor of 10 between 120 km and 150 km of altitude.

The first “Deep Dip” campaign was held from 10 to 18 February 2015. The first three days were devoted to the gradual lowering of the orbit through the use of three successive lighting of the rocket engines. Over the next five days, the probe has traveled twenty low orbits around the red planet which otherwise rotates. So that the collected data cover almost all of the base of the upper atmosphere (whose gas escape) or the top of the lower atmosphere (which controls the climate).

These data have already been processed by the scientists involved in the mission. According to Christian Mazelle, principal investigator of the SWEA (Solar Wind Electron Analyzer) instrument designed at the IRAP, “the results obtained during this first campaign of “deep dip” are beautiful and spectacular as many of those obtained from the beginning of the mission!”. They will be subject to an official communication during the 46th LPSC (“Lunar and Planetary Science Conference”) to be held from March 16 to 22 in The Woodlands near Houston, Texas.

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