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A 3D Display of Science Data and Orbital Information for NASA’s MAVEN Mission to Mars

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission (MAVEN) has been orbiting Mars since September 2014, exploring the planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere, and interactions with the Sun and solar wind. Scientists will use MAVEN data to explore the loss of volatile compounds—such as CO2, N2, and H2O—from the Martian atmosphere to space. Understanding atmospheric loss will give scientists insight into the history of Mars’ atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability.

We built a Cesium app to display MAVEN’s orbit around Mars, its orientation as it points in different directions during its orbit, and the science data it collects from the Martian atmosphere and the solar wind. Some of the instruments collect data along the path of the spacecraft (“in situ” measurements), and some measure magnetic fields or particle velocities that need to be displayed as 3D vectors branching out from the orbital path. Viewers can choose to display the spacecraft in the planet’s reference frame so that Mars remains stationary, or an inertial reference frame to watch the planet rotate.

The software is built and maintained by the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado, using Cesium and our open-source LaTiS tool for serving time-series data.