Solar Winds Stripped Mars' Atmosphere

Posted: Nov 5 2015, 3:48pm CST | by , Updated: Nov 5 2015, 10:44pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

Solar Winds Stripped Mars' Atmosphere
Photo Credit: Getty Images

NASA's MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) Mission has identified just how Mars has changed its climate from warm and wet in the past to what it is today, which is cold and arid. MAVEN discovered the process that probably happened on the planet.

The answer is that solar winds are stripping the atmosphere of Mars and causing it to lose gas. The findings show that the erosion increases when there are solar storms, the erosion is greater than when there are not, according to the November 5th issue of Science and Geophysical Research Letters and NASA.

“Mars appears to have had a thick atmosphere warm enough to support liquid water which is a key ingredient and medium for life as we currently know it,” said John Grunsfeld, who is the astronaut and the associate administrator for the NASA Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Understanding what happened to the Mars atmosphere will inform our knowledge of the dynamics and evolution of any planetary atmosphere. Learning what can cause changes to a planet’s environment from one that could host microbes at the surface to one that doesn’t is important to know, and is a key question that is being addressed in NASA’s journey to Mars.”

According to the research, the winds strip away 100 grams every second. "Like the theft of a few coins from a cash register every day, the loss becomes significant over time," said Bruce Jakosky, who is the MAVEN principal investigator at the University of Colorado. "We've seen that the atmospheric erosion increases significantly during solar storms, so we think the loss rate was much higher billions of years ago when the sun was young and more active.”

That is just the normal rate, when there is a solar storm it is even more. The combination of a greater chance of solar winds suggests that this was likely the largest reason for the change in climate. Solar winds aren't winds like we think of them, but rather a stream of particles (electrons and protons) that flow from the sun's atmosphere at about a million miles an hour. These winds open an electric field and shoots the charged atoms through space.

The report also states that there are three regions where the loss is the greatest: "down the "tail," where the solar wind flows behind Mars, above the Martian poles in a "polar plume," and from an extended cloud of gas surrounding Mars."

These are the places where we believe water once was, as there are carvings with mineral deposits.

"Solar-wind erosion is an important mechanism for atmospheric loss, and was important enough to account for significant change in the Martian climate,” said Joe Grebowsky, MAVEN project scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “MAVEN also is studying other loss processes -- such as loss due to impact of ions or escape of hydrogen atoms -- and these will only increase the importance of atmospheric escape.”

The goal of the mission is now complete and will continue to collect information until November 16. It is unclear what will happen then.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/46" rel="author">Noel Diem</a>
Noel passion is to write about geek culture.




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