Local scientist helps unveil Mars' mystery history - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Local scientist helps unveil Mars' mystery history

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IOWA CITY (KWWL) -

We're learning more and more about our space neighbor, Mars.

Scientists with NASA Thursday announcing solar winds are causing Mars' atmosphere to thin, leaving behind a frozen, barren wasteland where once stood big bodies of water.  Because Mars doesn't have a magnetic field, the solar winds are able to hit the planet straight on, taking parts of the atmosphere with it. That's not the case here on Earth, where a magnetic field keeps the majority of solar winds away.

Jasper Halekas is part of the MAVEN team, or Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission. They're hoping to learn about the history of Mars, and more specifically what happened to it's atmosphere. In turn, he hopes to be able to use the lessons learned close to home when studying planets further away.

"The processes that we're learning about, some of those should apply," Halekas said. "And so we believe the things that we learn at Mars will inform us about the other planets in our solar system, and maybe even beyond our solar system."

The project has been about 12 years in the making, and Halekas has been there every step of the way.  The MAVEN spacecraft is the first to ever study the atmosphere of Mars, and has been doing so for about a year.  Halekas said they were just approved for a second year of research by NASA.

"Turns out that a Mars year is two Earth years, so we haven't even been there for a whole Mars year.  We haven't even seen half of the seasons on Mars.  So just for starters, we're going to fill in that whole Mars year and see how things look over a full year," he said.

And he thinks Mars' popularity in popular culture, most recently The Martian, will ensure his research continues for years to come.

In fact, he says the MAVEN spacecraft has enough fuel on it to last for another decade--all years he hopes to continue to research.

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