MAVEN takes selfie to mark four years in orbit at Mars

September 21, 2018

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft celebrates four years in orbit studying the upper atmosphere of the Red Planet and how it interacts with the sun and the solar wind. To mark the occasion, the MAVEN team has released a selfie image of the spacecraft at Mars.

“MAVEN has been a tremendous success,” said Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator on the MAVEN mission and a professor at CU Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). “The spacecraft and instruments continue to operate as planned, and we’re looking forward to further exploration of the Martian upper atmosphere and its influence on climate.”

MAVEN’s selfie was made by looking at ultraviolet wavelengths of sunlight reflected off of components of the spacecraft. The image was obtained with the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument, which was built at LASP and normally looks at ultraviolet emissions from the Martian upper atmosphere.

The IUVS instrument is mounted on a platform at the end of a 1.2-meter boom (its own “selfie stick”), and by rotating, the boom can look back at the spacecraft. The selfie was made from 21 different images, obtained with the IUVS in different orientations, that have been stitched together.

“We never expected MAVEN to be able to take its own picture this way, but MAVEN has already surprised us many times with its outstanding performance at Mars,” said Nick Schneider, a professor in LASP and lead scientist for the IUVS instrument. “We think this is the first ultraviolet selfie taken by a spacecraft."

The MAVEN team at LASP includes researchers and students at both the graduate and undergraduate level. MAVEN has been streaming data back to Earth since the spacecraft went into orbit around Mars on Sept. 14, 2014. LASP provided two instruments for MAVEN and leads science operations and education and outreach for the mission.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the MAVEN project and provided two science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. The University of California, Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory also provided four science instruments for the mission. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, provides navigation and Deep Space Network support, as well as the Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.