Some NASA-sponsored scientists calculated how much atmosphere had Mars lost over time, and the results are exciting. According to the team of researchers, that surveyed an essential tracer, oxygen isotopes, revealed that Martian atmospheric loss depended on day and night cycle and surface temperature.
Nowadays, Mars is dry, cold, and lifeless, but, in the past, it housed vast rivers and liquid water. Scientists have already proven that by finding minerals on Mars that could only form in the presence of water. However, understanding how and how much atmosphere had the Red Planet lost over time is essential to estimate why is Mars as it is today.
“We know Mars had more atmosphere. We know it had flowing water. We do not have a good estimate for the conditions apart from that—how Earthlike was the Mars environment? For how long?” asked Timothy Livengood of the University of Maryland, College Park, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the lead author of the new study.
Scientists Revealed How And How Much Atmosphere Had Mars Lost Over Time
Exploring the oxygen isotopes helped researchers estimate how thick was the Mars atmosphere in the planet’s ancient history. The Red Planet is rich in heavier isotopes of oxygen, nowadays, and compared to the Earth is it is more abundant in that type of oxygen isotopes, called 18O. The lighter version of it, 16O, siphons faster in space, and that happened to Mars.
“Previous measurements on Mars or from Earth have obtained a variety of different values for the isotope ratio. Ours is the first measurements to use a single method in a way that shows the ratio actually varying within a single day, rather than comparisons between independent devices. In our measurements, the isotope ratio varies from being about 9% depleted in heavy isotopes at noon on Mars to being about 8% enriched in heavy isotopes by about 1:30 pm compared to the isotope ratios that are normal for Earth oxygen,” Timothy Livengood added.
The new study showed that the Mars atmosphere loss “was by processes that we more or less understand,” as Livengood said. According to scientists, the new research helps other researchers tune-up their estimations on the ancient atmosphere of Mars.