How The Sun Robbed Mars Of Its Atmosphere

[Mars Transition: Billions of years ago when the Red Planet was young, it appears to have had a thick atmosphere that was warm enough to support oceans of liquid water – a critical ingredient for life. The animation shows how the surface of Mars might have appeared during this ancient clement period, beginning with a flyover of a Martian lake. The artist’s concept is based on evidence that Mars was once very different. Rapidly moving clouds suggest the passage of time, and the shift from a warm and wet to a cold and dry climate is shown as the animation progresses. The lakes dry up, while the atmosphere gradually transitions from Earthlike blue skies to the dusty pink and tan hues seen on Mars today.

Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab]

Thank you, NASA’s GSFC CILab, for that beautiful visual of the Mars we never knew.

Guess what? Mars once had an atmosphere that could support life. Billions of years ago. That rich atmosphere was stripped away by solar winds and left behind was the dry planet we see now.

This was announced by NASA today, based on the observations by the MAVEN (Mars, Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) spacecraft. MAVEN has been orbiting Mars since 2014 and it was able to observe the impact of a solar storm on Mars’ atmosphere last year. It showed how the solar particles were blasting the gases in the upper atmosphere of Mars into space.

The next obvious question–could this happen to Earth?

Well, it could, but our planet has a magnetic field that shields our atmosphere from the solar winds. Mars, its core having cooled down billions of years ago, does not have an extensive magnetic field anymore. So, maybe, billions of years in the future, when Earth’s core cools down, it too will be stripped of its atmosphere and turn into a hard, dry place like Mars.

According to MAVEN, Mars is losing its atmosphere at the rate of 100 grams per second.

MAVEN’s measurements also show the composition of gases Mars lost: hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide. Sounds like the recipe for creating an Earth-like habitable world, doesn’t it?

Look at this vine from NASA, see how Mars starts to look like Earth?

Now the question is, if Mars was a habitable planet eons ago, did it have life on it back then?

S.G. Basu is an aspiring potentate of a galaxy or two. She plots and plans with wondrous machines, cybernetic robots, time travelers and telekinetic adventurers, some of whom escape into the pages of her books. Once upon a previous life on planet Earth, S.G. Basu trained to be an engineer, and her interest in science and her love of engineering shows up time and again in her books.

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Posted in science news

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