PIA18858: Ions of Eight Metals from Comet Dust Detected in Mars Atmosphere
 Target Name:  Mars
 Mission:  MAVEN
 Instrument:  Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer 
 Product Size:  3001 x 1916 pixels (w x h)
 Produced By:  University of Arizona
 Full-Res TIFF:  PIA18858.tif (17.26 MB)
 Full-Res JPEG:  PIA18858.jpg (533.5 kB)

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These eight graphs present data from a mass spectrometer on NASA's MAVEN orbiter identifying metal ions added to the Martian atmosphere shortly after comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring sped close to Mars.

MAVEN's Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer (NGIMS) directly samples the composition of Mars' upper atmosphere when the spacecraft dips into the top of the atmosphere during each elongated orbit. These graphs show count rates of specific types of metal ions from each of multiple dips during the period from Oct. 18 to Oct. 23, 2014. The time of the comet's closest approach to Mars is marked with a vertical line on each graph. Measurements were suspended temporarily around that time.

The vertical axis is detector count rates, with different scales for the different types of metals. The pattern for each metal is similar: no detection in the days preceding the comet flyby, a sharp peak shortly after the flyby, then a rapid return to virtually no detections.

The detected metals sodium and manganese each exist naturally as only one isotope. The detection charts include more than one isotope for nickel, magnesium, chromium, iron and zinc. Only one of potassium's three isotopes was detected.

The detection peaks resulted from dust particles that had been released by the comet's nucleus vaporizing as they entered the Martian atmosphere at high speed.

Engineers and scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in collaboration with partners at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Battel Engineering, Scottsdale, Arizona; and AMU Engineering, Miami, Florida, built NGIMS.

MAVEN is NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the MAVEN project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, and built some of the science instruments for the mission. MAVEN's principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder. The university provided science instruments and leads science operations, as well as education and public outreach, for the mission. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built and operates the spacecraft. The University of California at Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory provided instruments for the mission. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, provides navigation and Deep Space Network support, as well as the Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.

For more information about MAVEN, visit http://www.nasa.gov/maven and http://lasp.colorado.edu/home/maven/.

For more information about NASA's Mars Exploration Program, see http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov.

Image Credit:
NASA/Univ. of Colorado

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