Scientists involved in NASA’s MAVEN mission found that planet Mars’ atmosphere is slowly leaking away due to solar storms. The findings, which were disclosed Thursday, may finally explain why Martian atmosphere is so much thinner than our planet’s.
Data collected during the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission showed that every time the Red Planet is showered by a violent solar storm, solar particles strip away the atomic and molecular particles in the planet’s upper atmosphere.
The data may provide an explanation to the disappearance of Martian atmosphere, which puzzled scientists for decades. MAVEN researchers believe that in its early days, the sun was more violent and solar storms occurred more frequently. Plus, because ultraviolet wavelengths were more intense, this also contributed to the loss of atoms in Mars’ atmosphere.
“What this tells us is loss through space has been an important process,”
noted Bruce M. Jakosky, one of the MAVEN researchers involved in the study and senior researcher with the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.
Scientists also believe that planet Mars must have been a warmer and more hospitable world when its atmosphere was thicker. Computer models showed that when air vanished in the northern hemisphere, large bodies of water such as lakes and seas may have vanished, as well.
On Thursday, MAVEN team published a study on the findings in four different papers in the journal Science. Michael W. Liemohn, a space science expert from the University of Michigan who wasn’t involved in the study, was impressed with ‘the great stories’ the team was able to put together from the incomplete data from other probes.
MAVEN probe arrived at Mars in September 2014. Its goal was to analyze the Martian atmosphere and how solar winds interact with it.
Space scientists know that atmosphere from a planet can vanish in two ways. Electrons can either collide with atoms in the upper atmosphere where the charged atom is later swept away by the strong electromagnetic fields emitted by the solar wind. But, sometimes particles of air are stripped away from the atmosphere in the wake of a series of collisions with solar wind particles just like billiard balls interact to one another.
Researchers argued that both events are equally important. The recent study, however, analyzes only the charged atom theory. According the to recently published papers, charged atoms can leak away from upper atmosphere at a rate of a quarter of pound per second. But when solar storms are extremely violent, the rate can be 10 to 20 times higher.
Image Source: Wikipedia
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