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Solar System

First Light for MAVEN

NASA's MAVEN spacecraft has reached Mars and it is beaming back "First Light" images of the Red Planet's upper atmosphere. The data could help researchers understand what transformed Mars from a hospitable planet billions of years ago into a desiccated wasteland today.

What are the characteristics of the Solar System that lead to the origins of life?

The possibility of finding life elsewhere is for many people the most compelling reason for humankind to explore beyond the Earth.  We believe that  liquid water and carbon are required for life to arise and thrive, as well as a source of energy.  Many places in the solar system provide these, at least for a time; not only planets, but also some moons and even certain comets.  But for life to arise we presume that a hospitable environment must be more than just transient.

How did the sun's family of planets and minor bodies originate?

For the first time in human history we know of planets around other stars and many of those other planetary systems look quite different from our own. Many have a planet like Jupiter, or even bigger, nearest to the sun.  If we are to understand why this is the case, and how likely it is that there are Earth-like planets elsewhere, we need to better understand how planets form.


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