Mars, the red planet, the god of war according to Greek and Roman mythologies. The fourth major body in the solar system has alway aroused the questing spirit of humans. To assuage this very real and very powerful spirit of curiosity, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched the The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM). To celebrate two years to the day when India put its MOM into orbit, ISRO has now released almost one year worth of data obtained through the MOM to the general public.
The Mars Orbiter Mission has been orbiting the red planet ever since September, 2015. The MOM is also special considering that it is ISRO’s first interplanetary mission. The satellite is orbiting around Mars in an elliptical orbit of about 343 km x 71191 km as of 16th September 2016 and is continuously transmitting all sorts of useful data back to its home planet.
Well, ISRO has decided to let the general public explore some of the data obtained through the Mangalyaan. Along the same initiative, the Department of Space has released first year of MOM Long-term archive data (Sept 24, 2014 to Sept 23, 2015) to the general public. Let’s dive right in. shall we?
A Quick Look At Mars:
Before talking about the findings of the Mangalyaan, it is important to take a look at Mars and figure out why the planet has drawn so much human interest to it. First off, it is one of the nearest planets to the earth, and if you are going to start something new, you gotta take small steps. Although the small step here, still requires you to travel somewhere around 225 million km in space.
Also, the conditions in Mars are believed to be hospitable — at least more hospitable than any of the other planets in our solar system — since the planet is similar to Earth in many ways. The red planet has surface features that strongly resemble both the impact craters of the Moon and volcanoes, deserts and polar ice of Earth.
Also, Mars and Earth have an almost equal period of revolution around its axis. While, Mars takes 24 hours and 37 minutes to complete one revolution around its axis, as compared to 24 hours for the earth. However, while Earth takes approximately 365 days to orbit around the Sun, Mars takes 687 days.
However, there are some stark difference as well. For one, the gravity of Mars is roughly one- third of Earth’s gravity — meaning that if you weight 90 KGs on earth, you will weight just 30 on mars. The planet also has an extremely thin atmosphere with a pressure that is merely 1 % that of Earth. The planet currently hosts seven functioning spacecrafts of which, five are in orbit — namely, the 2001 Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MAVEN and Mars Orbiter Mission—and the other two are on the surface of the planet.
NASA’s Curiosity rover, which is one of the two surface bound robots, has discovered that Mars’s soil contains between 1.5% and 3% water by mass. So yeah, there is a certain potential for life on the planet.
India’s Mars Mission, the Mangalyaan:
The Mars Orbiter mission was launched on the 5th of November 2013 by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). It is India’s first interplanetary mission and catapulted ISRO into the extremely select group of state owned organizations that have managed to get their probes to Mars. It also made India the first Asian nation to put a satellite into Mars orbit, and made it the first country that managed to get an orbiter into orbit in its first attempt.
The Mars Orbiter Mission probe lifted-off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center , situated in Andhra Pradesh. A Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket was deployed for this purpose. The rocket along with its payload, took off from the first launch pad at 09:08 UTC on 5th of November 2013. After spending almost a month orbiting our home planet, the Mangalyaan embarked upon its 298-day voyage into the depths of space, until it arrived at Mars on the 24th of September 2014.
Instruments abroad and the data transmitted:
The payload also consisted of 5 devices developed at the Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad. The instruments that are being used to transmit data back to earth included the following:
- Mars Colour Camera (MCC) – Capable of giving tricolor images and information about the surface features and composition of Mars.
- Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM) – The MSM has been designed to measure the Methane (CH4) in the Martian atmosphere, a very important factor while hunting for the presence of life.
- Thermal Infra-Red Imaging Spectrometer (TIS) – Capable of being operated both during the day and night, TIS’s primary objective is to measure the surface temperature of Mars. After all, we don’t want to live in either a toaster, or a freezer right?
- Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer (MENCA) – Designed to analyze the neutral composition of particles in the range of 1–300 amu (atomic mass unit) with unit mass resolution.
- Lyman-Alpha Photometer (LAP) – Measures the the relative abundance of Deuterium and Hydrogen from Lyman-alpha emissions in the upper atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the MOM data archive that has been revealed to the public consists of spacecraft data as well as instrument data. Also included is derived or merged instrument data (wherever applicable).
The MOM data sets are disseminated through an online archive, where the data are delivered electronically. A data set will include the instrument data as well as the ancillary data, software and necessary documentation that support the use of these data products. In general, the data products from different instruments are contained in separate data sets. Data sets may include data products from one or separate data sets.
Meanwhile, the data is already being used by researchers from all over the country and will help them develop insights and give a boost to their own, interplanetary projects. The rest of the data transmitted will also be released at six month intervals.
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