Scientists know Mars once had seas of liquid water on its floor, and it might also have appeared like Earth billions of years ago. All this precipitation has been lost to space over centuries, leaving the planet in the arid condition that we see today. Much like this has arisen in a continuing puzzle to be studied by physicists. Now, recent research indicates that the heat and dust in the Martian planet play a crucial role in tossing water into orbit.
Researchers used data from the NASA Mars Atmosphere and from the spacecraft Volatile EvolutioN or MAVEN, a Mars orbiter that gathers upper atmosphere data. They discovered that Mars already lacks water during the Martian season when vapor is drawn up from the polar ice caps. Project scientists also find out that since sublimating from frozen polar caps during warmer Martian seasons, Mars tends to lose water today when vapor is carried to high altitudes.
"We were all surprised to find water so high in the atmosphere," said Shane W. Stone, a doctoral student in planetary science at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson. "The measurements we used could have only come from MAVEN as it soars through the atmosphere of Mars, high above the planet's surface."
The Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer, which the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre developed, is the instrument onboard MAVEN used by the crew. Stone and other study team members monitored water ions far above Mars for more than two Martian years, per SlashGear. The volume of water vapor at the Martian atmosphere, some 93 miles above Mars, is the largest in the southern hemisphere throughout the season.
Everything Depends on Sun
In addition to colder weather helping to transfer water vapor, dust storms also impact it. According to SciTechDaily, heavy winds in these frequent Martian storms help raise the water vapor higher. And as the cloud of water travels into the atmosphere, it is subjected to cosmic rays, splitting up into hydrogen and oxygen and eventually disappearing into space.
Because this is the portion of the atmosphere subjected to the Sun's maximum power, Stone clarified that everything that makes it up to the upper section of the atmosphere is lost on Mars or Earth.
The researchers discovered that a specific storm-induced 20 times more water than average to appear in the atmosphere over two days in June 2018. And Mars lost as much water in 45 days as it usually would in a full Mars year about two Earth years). This suggests that scientists ought to change their models of how water from Mars flows and is lost.
Mehdi Benna, a Goddard planetary scientist and co-investigator of MAVEN's NGIMS instrument, noted that this discovery provides experts with a new pathway that nobody didn't think existed for water to escape the Martian environment.
"This would radically modify our calculations of how easily water escapes now and how quickly it escaped in the past."
Check out more news and information on Space on Science Times.