NASA Reveals How The Sun Turned Mars Into A Barren Red Planet
November 06, 2015 12:05 PM EST
Solar winds and storms robbed Mars of a dense atmosphere that could have sustained oceans of water and perhaps even life.
Announcing findings made by its Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) probe, NASA on Thursday announced that solar winds caused gradual escape of atmospheric components into space leaving the Red Planet barren.
"Mars appears to have had a thick atmosphere warm enough to support liquid water which is a key ingredient and medium for life as we currently know it," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for the NASA Science Mission Directorate in a press release. "Understanding what happened to the Mars atmosphere will inform our knowledge of the dynamics and evolution of any planetary atmosphere. Learning what can cause changes to a planet's environment from one that could host microbes at the surface to one that doesn't is important to know, and is a key question that is being addressed in NASA's journey to Mars."
Fox News reports that gases are being stripped at the rate of quarter pound a second, which can accelerate during solar storms.
NASA recently announced that Mars shows signs of past presence of abundant water, seen through valleys and mineral deposits that can only be attributed to water flow. When charged particles carried by solar winds blow past Mars, they create an electric field that can pull away ions from the planet's atmosphere.
"Solar-wind erosion is an important mechanism for atmospheric loss, and was important enough to account for significant change in the Martian climate," said Joe Grebowsky, MAVEN project scientist from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.