Where Did The Atmosphere On Mars Go? | Out Of This World Weekly

According to the Curiosity rover, most of the once thick atmosphere on Mars may have just floated away into inter planetary space.  It seems that the lightest gases rose to the top of the early Martian atmosphere, where they were the first to escape.  We aren’t sure about the exact composition of the gases that did escape but we can gather information about the remnants that were left behind.  Mars has an atmosphere of 95% Carbon Dioxide.  Of this Carbon Dioxide, the heaviest isotopes exist is far greater quantities than the light isotopes.  This suggests that they rose to the top of the atmosphere and escaped into space.  This information shows that Mars did indeed have a thicker atmosphere than it does today.  Currently, the atmosphere on Mars is only 1/100th that of Earth and would be deadly to an unprotected human.

It would have also been necessary for Mars to have a thicker atmosphere to enable liquid water to exist on the surface for extended periods.  Since evidence of liquid water has been found on the surface of Mars, this also points to Mars once having a thicker atmosphere.  So, if Mars did once have a thicker atmosphere and liquid water then we may be able to artificially return it to that state.  

It is thought that Mars doesn’t have enough gravity to hold a large atmosphere, allowing small portions of atmosphere to slowly escape over time.  The solar wind may have contributed to this atmospheric erosion because Mars doesn’t have a large magnetic field to protected the atmosphere.  It isn’t known if a large impact by an asteroid or comet could have knocked off a large portion of the atmosphere but this is yet another theory as to the disappearance of the atmosphere.  Whatever the cause, knowing that Mars once did have a thicker atmosphere does give us hope of again terraforming the atmosphere of Mars to a comfortable level.  Knowing exactly what is causing the atmosphere to escape would help us to preserve that atmosphere in the future. 

This study by the instruments of the Curiosity rover also looked into the presence of Methane (CH4) in the atmosphere of Mars.  This gas has been detected in very low concentrations by previous missions and apparently the concentrations vary over time.  Methane is created as a by product of some living organisms and if Methane is found, it might be a good indicator that life may be present somewhere on Mars.  Unfortunately, the Curiosity rover didn’t find large amounts of Methane in Gale Crater that it is currently exploring.  Hopefully, further analysis will show where this Methane is coming from and why the amounts in the atmosphere change as this could be a sign of life somewhere on Mars. 

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