NASA's Mars MAVEN Craft Captures Selfie on Fourth Birthday

The MAVEN mission to Mars entered the upper atmosphere of the planet four years ago as of Friday and NASA is celebrating with one of its signature space selfies.

The composite image, made up of 21 images, was released Friday on NASA's website and shows the craft taken by the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph, or IUVS, instrument on the craft.

The craft is in orbit around the planet studying the interaction between the upper atmosphere and the solar wind and the sun. Usually, the IUVS is used to image the ultraviolet emissions coming from the upper atmosphere of the planet, according to NASA.

NASA has a history of making it possible for its craft to take selfies in space, the Mars Curiosity Rover has taken many over the years it's been on the planet. The MAVEN's IUVS is mounted on the end of boom, similar to a selfie stick.

maven selfie
distorted photo composite of spacecraft This image is a composite selfie taken by MAVEN's Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph, IUVS, instrument that normally looks at ultraviolet emissions from the Martian upper atmosphere. NASA

While Friday was the anniversary of the craft entering orbit it actually launched nearly five years ago, in November 18, 2013, from Launch Complex 21 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The rocket used to launch it was a United Launch Alliance Atlas V and it took the craft 10 months to reach Mars.

The craft is working to study the climate of Mars and how that climate has changed over the years, to help provide insight into how Earth's climate is changing over thousands of years. It has already made a series of discoveries about Mars.

MAVEN found that the loss of the atmosphere on Mars contributed greatly to the climate change on the Red Planet and found two new types of auroras occurring on the planet as well. It's primary mission concluded nearly three years ago in November of 2015 and was extended because it was still doing productive work.

But MAVEN's life in space won't last forever. There are plans in place to slow the craft down to take it through the upper atmosphere and slow it down even more. The goal of the aerobraking maneuver is to "reduce the highest altitude in MAVEN's orbit to enhance its ability to serve as a communications relay for data from rovers on the surface," according to NASA. This will help keep communications open, especially after the new InSight rover lands on the surface of the planet in November.

NASA's Mars MAVEN Craft Captures Selfie on Fourth Birthday | Tech & Science