Scientists in the Field
Spiral Notebook
by Elizabeth Rusch
September 25, 2014
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The mighty Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity took off the table one of the longest-standing questions about Mars: Did it once have water which could have supported life? The rovers collected powerful evidence that the answer is a resounding YES. (Opportunity is still sending back amazing images and information about the red planet more than ten years later. Check out the mission update at:

So the next question is: What happened to all that water? How did the planet go from warm and wet to cold and dry? Scientists think the answer may lay in Mars’ atmosphere, which once was thicker and rich with carbon dioxide.

So last year NASA sent a new spacecraft to circle the red planet. Maven (the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission), successfully slipped into orbit on Sunday September 21. (Go NASA!) For a year, the school-bus sized Maven will use its eight instruments to better understand our neighboring planet’s atmosphere. NASA administrator Charles Bolden explains: “As the first orbiter dedicated to studying Mars’ upper atmosphere, MAVEN will greatly improve our understanding of the history of the Martian atmosphere, how the climate has changed over time, and how that has influenced the evolution of the surface and the potential habitability of the planet.” And here’s the coolest part of all: “It also will better inform a future mission to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s.”

Though the mission will stay high in the sky, Maven might get us one step closer to landing people on Mars. Follow along to learn what Maven finds at:



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About Elizabeth Rusch

Elizabeth lives in Portland, Oregon, with her family. The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity was her first book for the Scientists in the Field series, followed by Eruption! – about vulcanologists – scientists who study volcanoes--and her newest book, The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans. You can visit Liz online at    


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