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Artist's impression of early Mars. Image: NASA

NASA Is Making a Big Announcement About Mars' Atmosphere This Thursday

FIONA MACDONALD
4 NOV 2015

NASA is a fan of making announcements about its forthcoming announcements, but so far it hasn't failed to live up to its hype. First there was the discovery of the most Earth-like exoplanet to date, and just last month researchers shared evidence of salty, flowing water (!!) on the Red Planet. 

 

So suffice it to say that when the US space agency says it's got something big to share with the world, we're going to pay attention, and this Thursday at 2pm EST it's promising to announce "key science findings" about what happened to Mars' now-thin atmosphere. We'll be live reporting the announcement as it happens, and you can watch along with us from the comfort of your home or office below via NASA TV.

The question we're all asking, naturally, is what the hell NASA might have in store for us. So far, we don't have a whole lot to go on, but what we do know is that the research comes fom the MAVEN (Mars, Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) spacecraft, which has been orbiting Mars since 2014 and studying its upper atmosphere. These will be the first findings announced from the mission.

The spacecraft carries eight different sensors on board, including an ion mass spectrometer and a magnetometer, and according to NASA its aim is to: "Determine the role that loss of volatiles from the Mars atmosphere to space has played through time, giving insight into the history of Mars' atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability."

That last point is a particular favourite among those speculating on the outcome of the announcement on Twitter at the moment, but unfortunately we have nothing concrete to back up the idea that the announcement is to do with the potential for past or future life on Mars.

There is, however, this one slightly telling clue that we've found on NASA's Vine, which shows a simulation of what the Red Planet may have once looked like, and we're kinda freaking out over it (hello, second Earth?).

The Vine update links to a NASA statement with a few more details:

"The atmosphere on Mars is whisper-thin and drier than bone – but it wasn't always that way. For the past year, the MAVEN mission has been orbiting the planet, piecing together clues about what happened to all the air on Mars. At 2pm EST on November 5, NASA will hold a briefing on some new findings about the Martian atmosphere."

We also know that the announcement will be held at the NASA headquarters in Washington DC and will involve:

  • Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program 
  • Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator 
  • Jasper Halekas, MAVEN Solar Wind Ion Analyser instrument lead
  • Yaxue Dong, MAVEN science team member 
  • Dave Brain, MAVEN co-investigator

Which is a pretty hard-hitting line up. But the reality is that, until Thursday, we won't know what NASA is going to tell us. So tune in to the live stream below at 2pm on November 5 EST (that's 7pm UTC and 6am Friday AEST).

You can ask NASA questions in advance using #AskNASA on Twitter. And we'll be live reporting on the story as it happens, so watch this space.

P.S. Anyone with any suggestions for a NASA live announcement drinking game, please let us know on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or email. Because if the space agency is going to keep holding us in suspense like this on the regular, then we definitely need one.