This simulation depicts the solar wind interacting with the Mars upper atmosphere, with MAVEN's orbit embedded.
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has been orbiting Mars since 2014, observing the planet’s upper atmosphere and its interaction with the solar wind in order to better understand the climate history of Mars. The solar wind is a stream of electrically charged particles blowing from the Sun at approximately one million miles per hour.
This visualization simulates charged particles (ions) in the Mars upper atmosphere interacting with the solar wind and escaping to space. Red and yellow particles represent high-velocity ions that escape the planet, while greens and blues represent low-velocity ions that remain bound to Mars. Time is frozen in the visualization, and a camera move reveals the structure of the system.
On Mars’ dayside, the ions follow the contours of the solar wind bow shock; on its nightside they are drawn into a long tail, with a complex internal structure driven by electrical current systems. MAVEN’s elliptical orbit is embedded within the cloud of escaping ions. In this visualization, MAVEN orbits nearly above the Martian terminator – the boundary between the planet’s dayside and its nightside – though the orbit also drifts slowly around Mars.
The solar wind has contributed to the erosion of the Martian atmosphere over time, which has gradually turned Mars from warm and wet to cold and dry. MAVEN is helping scientists to better understand the complex processes that have driven this transition, and which continue to affect the Martian climate today.
GCMD keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation:
Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version 188.8.131.52.0