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Video: Mars' Missing Water May Be Due To Solar Winds, NASA May Have Found What Made Mars A Wasteland

Update Date: Nov 06, 2015 10:00 AM EST

Now why on earth---or in Mars---did the Red Planet morph from being a "warm, wet planet to a frozen, barren one"?

Scientists with NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission might have found out.

New MAVEN data has made researchers find out at what rate the Red Planet is losing gas and being lashed by violent solar winds. Its atmosphere eroded dramatically during solar storms.

"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 Washington. "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."

The information shows that the atmosphere was eroded more violently when the Sun was younger and dynamic billions of years ago. It has built up through the years, creating the planet seen today. The attack of a number of strong solar storms in March 2015 heightened its loss of atmosphere.

The researchers feel that the loss is experienced in three different regions: "down the "tail," where solar wind flows behind the planet; above the Martian poles in a "polar plume"; and from a gas cloud surrounding the planet. About 75 percent of the escaping ions are originated in the tail region, and 25 percent come from the plume," according to HNGN.

Hence, there was once water on Mars, as you can see from the valleys with rivers and mineral deposits. For water, its atmosphere would have been more dense.

"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 in Greenbelt, Maryland. "MAVEN also is studying other loss processes -- such as loss due to impact of ions or escape of hydrogen atoms -- and these will only increase the importance of atmospheric escape."

These findings were published in recent editions of the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters.

YouTube/NASA Goddard

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