I admit it. I didn't appreciate the significance of the MAVEN mission till I attended a wonderful media workshop at the University of Colorado Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). I should have listened to Bruce Betts when he called it the greatest science mission nobody knows about. Something like that.
I confessed my ignorance to MAVEN Principal Investigator Bruce Jakosky in this week's Planetary Radio episode. The UCB Professor of Geological Sciences forgave me. After all, this is why they held the workshop. I think it's safe to say that every attending journalist came away excited and intrigued by the mission's goals.
We know Mars once had a far thicker, far warmer, far wetter atmosphere. Where did it go? When did it go, and how fast? That's what MAVEN, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission, will study with a superbly integrated suite of eight instruments. Dr. Jakosky explains how the spacecraft's planned orbit will allow it to directly sample and remotely sense the thin air around all of Mars, and during every part of the Martian day. He's also thrilled that MAVEN will arrive during the "Solar Max" when interaction between the solar wind and the atmosphere will be at its height.
You'll also get Emily Lakdawalla's introduction to two powerful tools for exploring the surface of asteroid Vesta. We can thank the Dawn spacecraft, now making its way to the queen of asteroids, Ceres. Bruce Betts phones in a special report from his alma mater Caltech, where they are celebrating 50 years of planetary science.
And Bill Nye? He got the week off so he could prepare for his performance on "Dancing With the Stars!" Did you watch? More important, did you vote for the Science Guy? We'll try to check in with the cosmic dancer on next week's Planetary Radio.