Mon. Aug 15th, 2022

New image of the entire hemisphere of Mars taken by the UAE
Enlarge / New image of the entire hemisphere of Mars taken by the UAE “Hope” probe.

Emirates Mars Mission

Since arriving on Mars eight months ago, the Emirates Mars Mission has quietly begun delivering some intriguing scientific data about the Mars atmosphere and its weather patterns.

Named “hope”, the probe is in a relatively high orbit that varies in altitude over Mars from 20,000 to 43,000 km. This vantage point allows the spacecraft to see an entire hemisphere at a time. For much of this year, therefore, the Hope probe has trained its multi-band image recorder, infrared spectrometer and ultraviolet spectrometer on Mars to collect data on the planet’s atmosphere and the resulting weather conditions.

The project was funded by the United Arab Emirates, and the spacecraft was built in conjunction with several U.S.-based universities, including the University of Colorado Boulder. The aim was to inspire young Emiratis to pursue an education in mathematics and science and train some of them through the resulting collaborations. The probe was launched in July 2020 on a Japanese rocket.

Emirates Ultraviolet Spectrometer mapped the distribution of atomic oxygen in the planet's upper atmosphere,
Enlarge / Emirates Ultraviolet Spectrometer mapped the distribution of atomic oxygen in the planet’s upper atmosphere,

Emirates Mars Mission

One goal of the mission was to share the resulting data freely, and as a result, the mission recently opened a scientific data portal. Anyone can register to access raw images and data collected by the probe earlier, with new data sets being released every three months without embargo. The mission, the first Arabian probe sent to Mars, is scheduled to operate for at least two years in orbit around the red planet.

The Hope probe has already made some interesting discoveries. For example, scientists had expected to observe a fairly uniform oxygen distribution throughout the Martian atmosphere. Although the planet’s thin atmosphere consists predominantly of carbon dioxide, molecular oxygen is a trace gas. According to the Hope probe’s observations of oxygen in the upper atmosphere, concentrations vary by more than 50 percent. Similar variations were also observed in carbon monoxide.

Scientists are now working to understand these variations, which do not quite fit into current models of the Martian atmosphere.

The probe also closely tracks temperatures across the surface of Mars, and appears to be the first weather satellite in orbit around the red planet. While there will be many considerations to be used to determine the first landing sites for humans on Mars – lack of rock outcrops and dangers will be most important among them – understanding local weather conditions will also be a valuable tool for mission planners.

Following the success of its Mars mission, the UAE Space Agency recently announced that it is planning an even more ambitious probe that will perform Venus flyby in the late 2020s and then travel to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. There, the probe will observe up to seven asteroids before attempting to land on one of them in 2033.

The probe mapped the temperature of the atmosphere and tracked how it warmed up during the morning.

The probe mapped the temperature of the atmosphere and tracked how it warmed up during the morning.

Emirates Mars Mission

For this mission, the country will once again partner with US-based universities to help develop the spacecraft and further strengthen collaboration with Middle East educators.

“Our goal is clear: to accelerate the development of innovation and knowledge-based enterprises in the Emirates,” Sarah Bint Yousif Al Amiri, Prime Minister of Advanced Sciences and President of the UAE Space Agency, said in a statement. “This can not be done by going steady-state; this requires leaps in imagination, in faith and the pursuit of goals that go beyond cautious or methodical.”

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