Nasa's Maven Mars mission launches

  • 19 November 2013
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See the Maven mission launch

Nasa's Maven mission has set off on its ten month journey to Mars.

The orbiter was launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Monday.

The Maven mission aims to find out whether the dusty Red Planet may have once looked a lot more like Earth.

The Maven orbiter will study the planet's high atmosphere, to try to find out why most of its air has disappeared.

Why did Mars lose its air?

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What happened to Mars's atmosphere?

The distance of Maven's orbit around the planet will vary and it will do five "deep dips", swooping into the Martian atmosphere to collect samples.

It will measure how quickly air molecules are being lost from the planet's atmosphere, to try to work out how and why the atmosphere's changed in the billions of years since the planet was warmer and wetter than it is today.

Mars's atmosphere is now extremely thin and is mostly made up of carbon dioxide. Scientists think that Mars probably lost most of its atmosphere from being battered by the Solar wind - the powerful blast of energetic particles from the Sun.

They think that because Mars doesn't have a protective magnetic field as the Earth does, it couldn't keep hold of its atmosphere.

Once Maven has completed its original mission, it will have enough fuel on board to keep it running for years, relaying information back to Earth from the Mars rovers like Curiosity.