Past studies revealed that in its early days, the Red Planet had a thicker atmosphere and dozens of lakes and seas on its surface. But recent findings from a Caltech team suggest the opposite: the planet never had such atmosphere so the scenario about a tropical paradise with a complex hydrological system simply doesn’t hold water.
The research team believes that Mars was a cold, barren world, very similar to desert areas in Antarctica from the very beginning.
The study was published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.
“I think it clarifies the picture in our head that maybe Mars was always cold and arid,”
said Bethany Ehlmann, senior author of the study and planetary science expert at Caltech.
Ehlmann said that the planet’s atmosphere must have been thick enough to prevent liquid water from evaporating, if the planet ever had some. The research team were especially interested in carbon levels in the ancient Martian atmosphere.
Renyu Hu, lead author of the study, noted that currently there is no carbon ‘reservoir’ on Mars as it was supposed to be if the Red Planet had a more Earth-like atmosphere.
So the recent theory better explains the recent geology of the Martian surface, researchers believe. They also believe that rather than having huge amounts of carbon volatiles on its surface, as previously suggested, a younger Mars had instead a small amount of carbon particles that gradually vanished to create the atmosphere we see today. If their theory is correct, there is no missing carbon to look for on the Red Planet.
Hu and the team based their findings on data collected by NASA’s Curiosity robotic rover and orbital satellites. The findings were compared with data from MAVEN mission, which was especially designated to provide an answer to why Mars lost its atmosphere long time ago.
MAVEN data suggests that the lost atmosphere may be a consequence of a lost magnetic field which allowed the sun to strip away the Martian atmosphere layer by layer shortly after.
Caltech scientists believe that rather than having permanent lakes, rivers and seas on its surface due to a Earth-like atmosphere, Mars had running water on its surface but only occasionally just like Death Valley or Antarctica experiences seasonal melting. Their models showed that the air pressure on Mars rarely, if ever, reached one bar, which is the air pressure on our planet at sea level.
Image Source: Pixabay
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