Space Coffee #3: Mars madness

Curated Mars stories from the Internet for your weekend pondering pleasure.

This edition of Space Coffee is a Mars orbiters’ special, celebrating two more nations, UAE and China, successfully placing spacecraft around the red planet. Since I don’t want Space Coffee to be newsy, I’m dropping links here to fuel your curiosity about Mars exploration using satellites in general.

This beautiful image from the Mars Express spacecraft shows the 82-kilometer wide ice-filled Korolev crater, which lies in the northern lowlands of Mars. Credit: ESA

My Space

🛰 NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft revealed how Mars lost its atmosphere and water

An under-appreciated mission in NASA’s fleet of Mars spacecraft, MAVEN has been unravelling how exactly Mars loses its atmosphere to space, providing clues on how and when the planet lost its water.

🪨 Japan’s mission to sample Mars’ moon Phobos

MMX will be the first to map the martian moons. In a way, it’ll also be the first Mars sample return mission, beating out NASA and the European Space Agency by at least 2 years!

Curated Space from the Internet

🍬 Aurorae on Mars

Perhaps one day, when interplanetary travel becomes commonplace, travelers arriving at Mars during southern summer will have front-row seats to observe Martian proton aurora majestically dancing across the dayside of the planet (while wearing ultraviolet-sensitive goggles, of course). These travelers will witness firsthand the final stages of Mars losing the remainder of its water to space.

🛰 A Mars Odyssey

When NASA’s Odyssey orbiter arrived at Mars almost 20 years ago, there was only one other working spacecraft at the planet. More than 10 successful missions have arrived since, yet Odyssey persists, holding the title as humanity’s longest-serving space mission at another world. Odyssey was an early mission in NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a multi-decade campaign to understand whether Mars had or still has life.

💫 How do you circle a martian moon?

The spacecraft will adopt a type of orbit that has not previously been used for scientific observations. If observed from Mars, the spacecraft will appear to follow the (Phobos) moon around its orbit with Mars in the centre. However, an observer on the moon would see the spacecraft appear to “look around” the moon’s surface. Such an orbit is called a “Quasi-Satellite Orbit” (QSO) as the spacecraft appears to be orbiting the moon as a satellite from the moon’s location.

🧊 A winter wonderland on Mars

The very deepest parts of Korolev crater, those containing ice, act as a natural cold trap: the air moving over the deposit of ice cools down and sinks, creating a layer of cold air that sits directly above the ice itself. Behaving as a shield, this layer helps the ice remain stable and stops it from heating up and disappearing. Air is a poor conductor of heat, exacerbating this effect and keeping Korolev crater permanently icy.