Spring is about six weeks away here in the northern hemisphere. On Mars, though, the season arrives today. It’s the vernal equinox — the start of a season that lasts for more than six Earth months.
A spacecraft scheduled for arrival at Mars in a couple of days will get to watch the whole season. In fact, it’s designed to monitor the planet for an entire Mars year — a bit less than two Earth years.
The craft is called Hope. It was launched by the United Arab Emirates, and it has several goals. First is to help develop science and engineering in the country, both through the mission itself and by inspiring students.
And second is to study the Martian atmosphere. Hope will watch the full cycle of day and night. That will allow it to see changes in the atmosphere that take place at various times of day — providing a more detailed look at the Martian weather and climate.
And like several other orbiters over the years, it’ll look at how Mars has lost its atmosphere. Early on, Mars had a much warmer, thicker atmosphere than it does today. Most of that atmosphere has vanished. Some is locked in the Martian rocks and ice caps. But most of it leaked out into space. Hope should provide new evidence of how that happened, and how it’s still happening today.
The craft is scheduled to arrive at Mars on Tuesday — just in time for spring.
Look for Mars high in the sky at nightfall. The planet looks like a bright orange star.
Script by Damond Benningfield