Mars Has Metal In Its Atmosphere

Posted: Apr 11 2017, 4:44am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

Mars has Metal in its Atmosphere
Illustration of MAVEN spacecraft at Mars. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
  • NASA’s MAVEN Spacecraft detects Metal Ions in Martian Atmosphere

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft has managed to detect metal ions in the Martian atmosphere.

Mars happens to have electrically charged metal atoms in the highest echelons of its atmosphere. These metal ions show hitherto undetected activity in the ionosphere of Mars. The MAVEN spacecraft of NASA has just detected the first metal ions on a planet besides the earth.

Since these metallic ions have quite some longevity and are carried long distances from their original spots by winds and electric fields, they can be employed to know more regarding motion trends in the ionosphere. This is similar to the use of a leaf held high above the ground to detect which way the wind is blowing.

MAVEN stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Emission Mission. It is currently busy in the exploration of the upper atmosphere of Mars. This is so as to find out the real reason why the Red Planet lost most of its air.

How Mars transformed from a planet that could have supported life forms billions of years ago to one which is a frigid desert world today is a mystery indeed. Yet gaining savvy regarding the ionosphere lends us clues about how the atmosphere is being lost to space.

The metal ions in the ionosphere come from a relentless barrage of tiny meteoroids which have an impact on the Red Planet. The moment one of these meteoroids hits the planet, it immediately vaporizes.

Some of the metal atoms get their electrons detached by the sudden physical reaction. This results in electrically charged ions. MAVEN has managed to detect iron, sodium and magnesium ions so far in the atmosphere of Mars.

Metal ions were detected in conjunction with the Comet Sliding Spring in 2014. Meteor showers are a common phenomenon in our solar system. Most of the planets and their moons have such activities going on close to their atmospheres.

Even the earth has metal ion layers high up in its stratosphere. Many other planets in our solar system are thought to also contain metal ions in their respective atmospheres.

MAVEN is the first spacecraft to bring home solid evidence of metal ions in the atmosphere of Mars. The group of scientists found that these metal ions had a different behavior on Mars than they did on earth.

The distribution of the metal ions were different above Mars and earth though. This was due to their different magnetic fields.

This research appeared on April 10 in Geophysical Research Letters.

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