“We believe that Earth and Mars started off with roughly the exact same ingredients and equivalent atmospheres,” said Dr. Jared Espley at the Friends of the David M. Brown Arlington Planetarium’s Sunday science lecture. “Modern Mars has polar ice, some carbon dioxide, and some water. Today Mars is a cold and dry planet which has below freezing temperatures and very little atmosphere.”
On Oct. 20, the Friends of the David M. Brown Arlington Planetarium hosted the final event of their October weekend was themed Mission to Mars in anticipation of NASA’s upcoming MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) mission which will further add to our understanding to our solar system’s red planet, Mars.
Dr. Espley, a scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Laboratory for Planetary Magnetospheres gave a talk titled “Climate Change on Mars: The Case of the Missing Martian Atmosphere.” His talk began with a story about how the building blocks of our solar system were thought to have come from the explosion of another star in our galaxy. He then discussed the theory that Mars lost its atmosphere due to its relatively weak planetary magnetic field and the solar winds from sun.
“The MAVEN mission has three main objectives,” Dr. Espley said discussing the mission. “We want to first characterize and understand Mars’s current atmospheric conditions. Secondly we want to characterize the current escape of Mars’s atmosphere. Finally we want to take those two sets of findings and then extrapolate backwards over billions of years to get a better understanding of what exactly happened.”
Dr. Espley humorously shared a story about the upcoming MAVEN mission relating to the recent government shutdown. “Even when the rest of the federal employees were furloughed, my team had to continue our work on the MAVEN mission because our launch window was fast approaching (Nov. 7-Dec. 18), and there would have been too many logistical unknowns had we fallen off schedule.”
While Dr. Espley’s talk was the final installment of the Mission to Mars weekend, there also a host of other events from Friday to Sunday. On Friday Oct. 18, there were showings of the full-dome programs Cosmic Colors which took viewers on an amazing journey across the electromagnetic spectrum, and also Marsquest narrated by Patrick Stewart which gave an overview of man’s discovery of mars and his quest throughout history to learn more about our neighboring red planet.
On Saturday Oct. 19, there was a second showing of Marsquest and then on Sunday Oct. 20 prior to the Dr. Espley’s science talk, there were showings of the One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure and the Magic Tree house.
For the first time, the Friends also ran a six to seven minute public service announcement before every show titled Losing the Dark (LTD) which talked about light pollution, its harmful effects to human health and on our environment, and what can be done to mitigate. Lastly, the children in attendance were encouraged to wear their Halloween costumes and received door prizes for doing so.
The Friends will host special events at the David M. Brown Arlington Planetarium one weekend every month until the end of the school year. For more information, visit their website. The theme of November’s weekend will be the Comets are Here, once again in honor of the Comet ISON.