Mars Missions and Science

This multimedia gallery assembles and organizes Mars content on the Scientific Visualization Studio website. All of Goddard Space Flight Center's animations, visualizations, videos, and still images relating to GSFC Mars science and missions can be found here! All video clips are available in at least 1280x720 HD unless otherwise noted.

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Mission: MAVEN

MAVEN is the first spacecraft devoted to understanding the upper atmosphere of Mars, and its role in the transformation of the Martian climate.
  • 2017 AGU Habitability Press Conference
    The search for life beyond Earth is riding a surge of creativity and innovation. Following a gold rush of exoplanet discovery over the past two decades, it is time to tackle the next step: determining which of the known exoplanets are proper candidates for life. Scientists from NASA and two universities presented new results dedicated to this task at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union on Dec. 13, 2017, in New Orleans, Louisiana. University of Colorado Boulder scientist David Brain discussed the evolution of the Martian atmosphere as an exoplanet analogue, using findings from the MAVEN mission.
  • MAVEN Finds Mars Argon Lost to Space
    Solar wind and radiation are responsible for stripping the Martian atmosphere, according to results from NASA's MAVEN spacecraft. By measuring light and heavy isotopes of argon in the Martian atmosphere, scientists have determined that a process called sputtering removed 65% of Mars' argon to space, along with the majority of other gases like carbon dioxide. Over billions of years, this transformed Mars from a hospitable environment into the cold, dry planet that we see today. Learn more about the finding from this print-resolution infographic.
  • Ultraviolet Mars Reveals Cloud Formation
    Ultraviolet images from MAVEN's IUVS instrument were used to make a time-lapse movie of rapid cloud formation on Mars on July 9-10, 2016.
  • Mars Evolution from Wet to Dry for Planetariums
    Scientists think that billions of years ago, the atmosphere of Mars was much denser and warm enough to support rivers, lakes, and perhaps even oceans of water. As the planet cooled and lost its global magnetic field, the solar wind and solar storms eroded away to space a significant amount of the planet’s atmosphere and water, turning Mars into the cold, arid desert that we see today. This animation depicts Mars transitioning from wet to dry. It is formatted in a square aspect ratio for planetariums and available in 4k resolution.
  • Solar Wind Strips the Martian Atmosphere
    Unlike Earth, Mars lacks a global magnetic field to deflect the stream of charged particles continuously blowing off the Sun. Instead, the solar wind crashes into the Mars upper atmosphere and can accelerate ions into space. Now, for the first time, NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft has observed this process in action – by measuring the speed and direction of ions escaping from Mars.
  • Solar Wind and Mars Bow Shock
    Mars lacks a global magnetic field to deflect the incoming solar wind, so charged particles from the Sun slam into the Mars upper atmosphere and pile up in a bow shock ahead of the planet. The inner boundary of this bow shock reaches the Mars ionosphere, and can accelerate ions to escape velocities. The visualizations on this page compare a simulated Mars bow shock with data taken from the MAVEN spacecraft.
  • Science Results Live Shot
    On Thursday, November 5, 2015, NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) has released its first results showing how Mars is losing its atmosphere to space. These results will help scientists understand why Mars' climate has changed, and why the planet has evolved from being warm and wet to cold and dry. Scientists were available Friday, November 6 to discuss these results, and what we can learn from them.
  • Mapping Mars' Upper Atmosphere
    High above the thin Martian skies, NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft is carrying out a mission: determine how Mars lost its early atmosphere, and with it, its water. Principal Investigator Bruce Jakosky discusses MAVEN's early science observations and its stellar occultation campaigns.
  • Stellar Occultations
    While previous orbiters have peered down at the Martian surface, MAVEN is spending part of its time gazing at the stars, observing the Martian atmosphere through a series of stellar occultations.
  • Mars Orbital Coverage
    MAVEN’s orbit gives it the most comprehensive view of the Martian atmosphere of any spacecraft to date. The combination of MAVEN’s north-to-south orbit and Mars’ eastward rotation provides a complete picture of the Martian atmosphere.
  • Deep Dip Orbit
    MAVEN is on a more elliptical orbit than many previous spacecraft, allowing it to study the interaction of the Martian atmosphere with the solar wind at varying altitudes. During the periodic "deep dip" campaigns, MAVEN's orbit is lowered to only 125 km at closest approach, dipping into the Mars upper atmosphere to study it in situ.
  • Investigating the Martian Atmosphere
    The Martian surface bears ample evidence of flowing water in its youth, from ancient crater lakes and riverbeds to minerals that only form in water. But today Mars is cold and dry, and scientists think that the loss of Mars' water may have been caused by the loss of its early atmosphere. NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, or MAVEN, will be the first spacecraft devoted to studying the Red Planet's upper atmosphere, in an effort to understand how the Martian climate has changed over time.
  • Voices of MAVEN
    On September 21, 2014 EDT, NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, or MAVEN, went into orbit around the Red Planet. Its goal: to understand how a changing atmosphere transformed Mars from a warm, wet environment in its youth to the desert world that we see today. Building such a mission and sending it to Mars is a hugely complex task, requiring the close coordination of hundreds of individuals around the country. In this video, several of the team members who made the mission possible share their experiences of working on MAVEN.
  • Goddard Goes to Mars
    The Martian climate remains one of the solar system's biggest mysteries: although cold and dry today, myriad surface features on Mars carved by flowing water attest to a much warmer, wetter past. What caused this dramatic transition? Scientists think that climate change on Mars may be due to solar wind erosion of the early atmosphere, and NASA's MAVEN mission will test this hypothesis. Project Manager David F. Mitchell discusses MAVEN and the Goddard Space Flight Center's role in sending it to the Red Planet.
  • Targeting Mars
    If you want to send a spacecraft from Earth to Mars, how would you get it there? You can't aim straight at the Red Planet, because it's moving around the Sun significantly slower than the Earth. Instead, you'll have to wait for up to 26 months for a launch window, then carefully aim at a moving target. In November 2013, the controllers of NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft did just that.
  • Science Orbit Visualization
    This visualization shows how the MAVEN spacecraft orbit changes as it progresses from the initial, highly elliptical entry orbit to a somewhat less elliptical orbit and finally to the science orbit.
  • Mars Orbit Insertion Highlights
    The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft arrived at Mars on September 21, 2014 EDT. NASA-TV broadcast a 70-minute live program as MAVEN executed a dramatic engine burn to achieve Martian orbit. This page contains highlights from the MAVEN Mars Orbit Insertion broadcast.
  • Mars Orbit Insertion Animations
    These animations depict MAVEN's arrival at Mars on September 21, 2014, and the ensuing science instrument deployments. The animations begin with MAVEN's orbital insertion engine burn near the Martian north pole. The deployments include MAVEN's LPW, SWEA and APP instruments.
  • Mars Orbit Insertion Visualization
    The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft was launched on a ten-month journey to Mars on November 18, 2013. This visualization shows MAVEN's approach and orbit insertion around Mars. MAVEN's initial orbit is highly elliptical. The tail behind MAVEN changes to red to indicate the period during which thrusters are fired for orbit insertion. A separate visualization shows the transition from the insertion orbit to the more circular science orbit.
  • Cruise Phase Visualization
    The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft was launched on a ten-month journey to Mars on November 18, 2013. The visualizations on this page show MAVEN's arcing path from Earth to Mars.
  • Launch and Deployment Animations
    This animation follows the MAVEN spacecraft's journey to Mars - from launch on an Atlas V rocket, through its solar panel deployments, to its dramatic engine burn during Mars orbit insertion
  • MAVEN Launch
    On November 18, 2013, the MAVEN spacecraft launched on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. This page contains highlights of the launch, available for download in broadcast-quality HD.
  • Pre-Launch Live Shot
    Spacecraft footage and interview with Dr. Jim Garvin, previewing the launch of NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission on November 18, 2013.
  • Principal Investigator and Project Manager Interviews
    Principal Investigator Bruce Jakosky and Project Manager David F. Mitchell discuss NASA's MAVEN mission, and its goal of understanding the evolution of the Martian climate.
  • Mission Overview with Principal Investigator
    Ancient riverbeds, crater lakes and flood channels all attest to Mars's warm, watery past. So how did the Red Planet evolve from a once hospitable world into the cold, dry desert that we see today? One possibility is that Mars lost its early atmosphere, allowing its water to escape into space, and NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft will investigate just that. On September 25, 2013, MAVEN Principal Investigator Bruce Jakosky delivered a presentation at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, discussing NASA's next mission to Mars. An edited version appears below.
  • Mars Transition Wet to Dry
    Billions of years ago when the Red Planet was young, it appears to have had a thick atmosphere that was warm enough to support oceans of liquid water – a critical ingredient for life. The animation shows how the surface of Mars might have appeared during this ancient clement period, beginning with a flyover of a Martian lake. The artist's concept is based on evidence that Mars was once very different. Rapidly moving clouds suggest the passage of time, and the shift from a warm and wet to a cold and dry climate is shown as the animation progresses. The lakes dry up, while the atmosphere gradually transitions from Earthlike blue skies to the dusty pink and tan hues seen on Mars today.
  • Mars Atmospheric Loss
    When you take a look at Mars, you probably wouldn't think that it looks like a nice place to live. It's dry, it's dusty, and there's practically no atmosphere. But some scientists think that Mars may have once looked like a much nicer place to live, with a thicker atmosphere, cloudy skies, and possibly even liquid water flowing over the surface. So how did Mars transform from a warm, wet world to a cold, barren desert? NASA's MAVEN spacecraft will give us a clearer idea of how Mars lost its atmosphere (and thus its water), and scientists think that several processes have had an impact.
  • Mars Climate History
    This page contains conceptual animations depicting a transition from a "Wet" Mars that may have existed long ago to the "Dry" Mars that we see today.
  • Spacecraft Animations and Statistics
    NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission is helping scientists to uncover the secrets of the ancient Martian climate. This page contains animations of MAVEN at Mars and spacecraft statistics.
  • Instrument Profiles
    Members of the MAVEN science team talk about the instruments that they have designed to figure out what happened to the early Martian atmosphere. The Particles and Fields package is designed to study the interaction of the solar wind with the upper atmosphere of Mars. The Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer (NGIMS) package studies ionized gas and neutral molecules, and looks at the ratio of heavy to light isotopes of various gases. The Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) takes pictures and spectra of Mars in UV light, and the magnetometer (MAG) studies the planet's patchwork magnetic field.
  • MAVEN Spacecraft and Instrument Footage
    This page contains broadcast-quality footage of the MAVEN spacecraft and science instruments.
  • Employee Profiles (Spanish)
    Spanish-language profile videos of MAVEN Deputy Project Manager Sandra Cauffman and software engineer Carlos Gomez-Rosa.
  • The How-To Guide to Satellites
    So, you want to build a satellite? And you want to sent it to Mars? Time to roll up your sleeves and sharpen your number two pencils - building an interplanetary spacecraft is a bit more complicated than putting together that office chair that you bought last Thursday.
  • Beauty Passes and Orbit Animations
    This collection contains early animations showing the MAVEN spacecraft in orbit around Mars, as well as MAVEN's overall orbit trajectory. Newer animations can be found on the "Mars Orbit Insertion Animations" and "Launch and Deployment Animations" pages near the top of this gallery.
  • General Teaser
    The MAVEN spacecraft is an exciting new unmanned Mars mission designed specifically to study the upper atmosphere of Mars. By studying how Mars' atmosphere is lost to space today, MAVEN will allow us to answer some important questions about the history of the red planet. How did it lose its atmosphere and surface water? How did its climate change? With data from MAVEN, we'll be able to determine how Mars' climate has changed over time, and how Mars transformed from a planet that possibly had a thicker atmosphere and liquid water to the barren landscape we see today.
  • Science Teaser
    The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN), set to launch in 2013, will explore the planet's upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind. Scientists will use MAVEN data to determine the role that loss of volatile compounds from the Mars atmosphere to space has played through time, giving insight into the history of the Martian atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability.

Instrument: SAM

The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite of instruments in the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) rover is designed to study the present and past habitability of Mars by exploring molecular and elemental chemistry relevant to life.
  • Possible Methane Sources and Sinks on Mars
    This illustration portrays possible ways that methane might be added to Mars' atmosphere (sources) and removed from the atmosphere (sinks). NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has detected fluctuations in methane concentration in the atmosphere, implying both types of activity occur in the modern environment of Mars.
  • SAM Organics and Methane Findings
    There’s big news coming out of the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument suite (SAM) on NASA’s Curiosity rover. For the first time, organic matter has definitively been detected on Mars. In addition to finding organic compounds in rocks, SAM has also detected sharp increases and decreases in methane levels in the atmosphere. MSL participating scientist Danny Glavin explains these findings and what they tell us about our search for life on the Red Planet.
  • SAM Sings Happy Birthday
    On August 5, 2012 (PDT), NASA's Curiosity rover touched down on the Red Planet. Aboard was the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, or SAM, the most sophisticated chemistry lab ever sent to another planet. Now, on the first anniversary of the landing, engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center are using SAM to "sing" Happy Birthday to Curiosity.
  • Curiosity Rover Explores Mars with SAM
    NASA's Curiosity rover analyzed its first solid sample of Mars with a variety of instruments, including the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite. Developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., SAM is a portable chemistry lab tucked inside the Curiosity rover. SAM examines the chemistry of samples it ingests, checking particularly for chemistry relevant to whether an environment can support or could have supported life.
  • SAM Edited Resource Collection
    This video is a collection of various SAM assets, including sections of the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) rover animation and Kennedy Space Center footage of MSL assembly and payload fairing.
  • SAM B-Roll
    Broadcast-quality b-roll clips of integration, testing, and fabrication of instruments on board the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite of instruments.
  • SAM Interviews
    Interviews with various Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) personnel, including Paul Mahaffy, SAM Principal Investigator.
  • SAM Overview
    Overview of the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite of instruments inside the Curiosity Rover.
  • SAM Employee Profiles
    These videos give an inside perspective on what it's like to work on the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite of instruments! Learn more about the people who work on SAM here.
  • SAM Teaser Trailer
    Short teaser trailer for the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite installed in the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) rover.
  • The Mars Chamber
    The Mars chamber is a box—about the size of a refrigerator—that re-creates the temperatures, pressures, and atmosphere of the Martian surface, essentially creating a Mars environment on Earth! Scientists and engineers use this chamber to test experiments on the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite—a fully functioning chemistry lab aboard the Curiosity Mars rover. By re-creating Mars on Earth and using an exact duplicate of SAM, scientists can "pre-run" experiments on SAM to make sure everything will work properly on the Mars rover. Learn more about the Mars chamber by watching this video!
  • Mass Spectrometry 101
    What do you do if you have a sample from another planet, and you want to find out if it contains a certain molecule...maybe even one that will reveal that the planet can sustain life? When scientists face a situation like this, they employ an amazing tool: the mass spectrometer. It does the hard work of separating out materials, allowing scientists to look very closely at a sample and see what's inside. Watch this video for an introduction to mass spectrometry.

Mars Science

These pages contain animations, data visualizations, videos and graphics related to NASA's Mars Exploration Program.
  • Phobos Electric Charging
    Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos. Both are small, airless bodies with irregular shapes. Because they lack protective atmospheres and magnetospheres, Phobos and Deimos are directly exposed to the solar wind for part of their orbits, creating complex electrical environments around the two moons.
  • Phobos Photobombs Hubble's Picture of Mars
    When the Hubble Space Telescope observed Mars near opposition in May 2016, a sneaky companion photobombed the picture. Phobos, the Greek personification of fear, is one of two tiny moons orbiting Mars. In 13 exposures over 22 minutes, Hubble captured a timelapse of Phobos moving through its 7-hour and 39-minute orbit.
  • Hubble's New View of Mars and Planets
    The Hubble Space Telescope is more well known for its picturesque views of nebulae and galaxies, but it's also useful for studying our own solar system's planets, including Mars. Hubble imaged Mars on May 12, 2016 - ten days before it would be on the exact opposite side of the Earth from the Sun.
  • GMM-3 Mars Gravity Map
    Goddard Mars Model (GMM) 3 is a global map of the gravity field of Mars. It was created by studying the flight paths of three Mars-orbiting spacecraft — Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The travel time and Doppler shift of radio signals sent between the spacecraft and the Earth-based dish antennas of the Deep Space Network are used to measure the position and velocity of each spacecraft. Over time, small variations in these orbital parameters allow scientists to build up an accurate and detailed gravity map of the red planet.
  • The Mars Fleet
    A fleet of robotic spacecraft is exploring the Red Planet, sending back an ever-growing flood of data. While rovers like Curiosity blaze tracks through the fine Martian soil, orbiters like MAVEN and MRO circle high overhead, gazing down at the planet's atmosphere and surface and relaying ground-based data back to Earth. The Mars fleet is providing mission controllers at NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Indian Space Research Organisation with a remote presence on Mars.
  • Phobos Falling Apart
    Weird marks on Phobos’s surface are early signs of the end for this moon of Mars.
  • Mars' Ancient Ocean
    For decades, planetary scientists have suspected that ancient Mars was a much warmer, wetter environment than it is today, but estimates of just how much water Mars has lost since its formation vary widely. Now, new isotopic measurements by researchers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center reveal that an ocean once covered approximately twenty percent of the Martian surface. This new picture of early Mars is considerably wetter than many previous estimates, raising the odds for the ancient habitability of the Red Planet.
  • Comet Siding Spring Narrated Video
    On October 19, Comet Siding Spring will pass within 88,000 miles of Mars – just one third of the distance from the Earth to the Moon! Traveling at 33 miles per second and weighing as much as a small mountain, the comet hails from the outer fringes of our solar system, originating in a region of icy debris known as the Oort cloud. Comets from the Oort cloud are both ancient and rare. Since this is Comet Siding Spring’s first trip through the inner solar system, scientists are excited to learn more about its composition and the effects of its gas and dust on the Mars upper atmosphere. NASA will be watching closely before, during, and after the flyby with its entire fleet of Mars orbiters and rovers, along with the Hubble Space Telescope and dozens of instruments on Earth. The encounter is certain to teach us more about Oort cloud comets, the Martian atmosphere, and the solar system’s earliest ingredients.
  • Comet Siding Spring Beauty Shots
    On October 19, 2014, Mars will receive a first-time visitor from the outer fringes of the solar system. C/2013 A1, better known as Comet Siding Spring, has been traveling toward the inner solar system for millions of years, and will just miss Mars by a distance of 88,000 miles on October 19 (roughly one-third of the distance from the Earth to the Moon). These animations depict the flyby as seen from orbit above Mars, and as seen from the Martian surface. The blue portion of Comet Siding Spring's tail is composed of ionized gas swept away from the Sun by the solar wind. The gray portion is composed of heavier dust particles, which are moving at 33 miles per second relative to Mars.
  • Comet Siding Spring and Mars Fleet
    This visualization shows NASA’s fleet of Mars orbiters, landers, and rovers during the planet’s close encounter with Comet Siding Spring. C/2013 A1, better known as Comet Siding Spring, will make a remarkably close pass of Mars on October 19, 2014. At closest approach, Comet Siding Spring will come within 82,000 miles of the Red Planet – just one-third of the distance from the Earth to the Moon. During the flyby, NASA will position its Mars fleet both to protect it from comet dust, and to make observations of the comet and its effects on the upper atmosphere of Mars.
  • Comet Siding Spring Mars Flyby
    These visualizations show MAVEN and Comet Siding Spring making their way through the solar system to a close encounter near Mars. Two wide angle views are included. The first one maintains a fixed camera above the ecliptic plane of the solar system. The second one moves the camera in a bit closer and more parallel with the ecliptic plane as the comet and MAVEN encounter the Martian region.
  • The Moons of Mars
    Explore different views of the two natural satellites of Mars.
  • The Mystery of Martian Methane
    Mike Mumma and his team of researchers at Goddard Space Flight Center have made the first definitive observations of methane in the atmosphere of Mars. The evidence of methane plumes only during certain seasons and the chemical processes that could lead to its possible sources both raise intriguing questions for future study.
  • Methane Plume on Mars
    The first definitive detection of methane in the atmosphere of Mars indicates the planet is alive in the sense that it still has geologic activity powered by heat from its interior, according to a team of NASA and university scientists. The team used spectrometer instruments attached to several telescopes to detect plumes of methane that were emitted from specific sites during the warmer seasons - spring and summer. Though nothing conclusive can yet be determined, it is possible that the detected methane was either produced by geologic processes such as the oxidation of iron (serpentinization) or by microscopic Martian life below the planet's surface. The methane released today could be produced currently, or it could be ancient methane trapped in ice 'cages' called clathrates or as gas below a sub-surface ice layer.
  • Biological Creation of Methane
    Conceptual animation depicting how biological organisms (shown as oval-shaped translucent structures) living beneath the surface of Mars may have produced methane (shown as blue spheres).
  • Geochemical Creation of Methane
    Conceptual animation depicting how geochemical processes during the course of Mars' history may have produced the methane plumes now seen in Mars' atmosphere. Here, through a process called serpentinization, methane is generated as part of a reaction involving the conversion of liquid water (seen seeping into the planet's crust), iron oxide, and carbon dioxide energized by the planet's internal heat into serpentine minerals.
  • Radiolytic Production of Methane by Microbial Life
    Animation depicting how 'extreme microbes' on Earth produce methane.
  • Mars Methane Spectroscopy
    Conceptual animation demonstrating the process of spectroscopy. The first animation demonstrates the general concept of visible-light spectroscopy by which white light is separated into its component wavelengths (colors) using a prism. The second animation demonstrates how this idea is applied to the discovery of methane in Mars' atmosphere. Because it absorbs specific wavelengths of electromagnetic energy, methane has a 'fingerprint' that can be seen as missing lines on the resulting spectograph.
  • Mars - Standard Definition Materials
    Mars has long been a focus of NASA missions and research. This gallery will direct you to standard-definition visualizations of Mars science.