MAVEN Looks for Clues to Mar’s Missing Atmosphere

Maven is improving our understanding of Mars
An artist’s conception of MAVEN in orbit around Mars

Where did Mar’s thicker atmosphere go?

This shot shows water ice clouds at the top that indicate a storm front on the Red Planet

Mars has always been a mystery

Astronomy News – Space scientists looking at the atmosphere of the Red Planet have a bit of a mystery on their hands as the facts would seem to indicate that Mars should have a much more prominent atmosphere. The formation of an atmosphere thick enough for liquid water to flow on the planet’s surface would have made the Red Planet a very promising place for the formation of life in our solar system. Planet scientists that have been studying Mars and the data collected by instruments they have focused on the Red Planet and are planning on journeying to the Red Planet to delve into the mystery of Mar’s atmosphere using MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission), sometime in the future. They want to see if they can find any clues as to where Mar’s atmosphere might have gone and the possible reasons it’s no longer present on Mars. They also want to see if they can determine a timeline for the disappearance of the Red Planet’s thick atmosphere, which could give them an idea whether Mar’s had time to develop life forms.

Planet scientists looking at the surface of Mars see features that lead them to believe that the surface of the Red Planet has been a cold and barren place for billions of years. This is hardly the environment for Earth-based life to develop, but surface features resembling water-channels of some kind and minerals scientists know will form in the presence of water have been found on the surface of Mars. These facts lead planet scientists to the possibility that Mars once had a much thicker atmosphere and was warm enough for liquid water to flow along the surface of Mars. The only problem is Mars currently has a very thin atmosphere unable to protect any liquid water that forms on the surface of Mars from the radiation of the sun and consequently any water would have been scoured from the planet’s surface, long ago. This environment would be the end-of-the-road for any known Earth-based life form, but it’s possible any Martian life forms that existed during the time when Mar’s thicker atmosphere went missing could have decided to go underground in order to survive. NASA plans on sending MAVEN out to the Red Planet to see if they can find any clues to the mystery of where Mar’s thicker atmosphere went, sometime in 2013, if NASA’s current plans stay on target.

Evidence exists suggesting Mars once had a lot more water

What are the possible reasons Mar’s no longer has a much thicker atmosphere? Space scientists at this point believe that Sol could be the main culprit in the disappearance of the Red Planet’s atmosphere, that Sol’s breath, or solar wind, is the possible force responsible for Mars no longer having a much thicker atmosphere possibly capable of supporting Earth-based life. They think it’s possible the electrically charged ions and electrons in the solar wind could have slowly stripped away Mar’s thicker atmosphere in its early days, after Mars lost its global magnetic field, which would have normally shielded the thicker atmosphere of the Red Planet from the force of Sol’s solar wind, just as Earth’s global magnetic field protects our atmosphere from the solar wind. Sol’s solar wind isn’t the only possibly culprit in the disappearance of Mar’s thicker atmosphere and NASA’s planning on sending MAVEN to the Red Planet within the next two years to take a look at what remains of the upper atmosphere of Mars, the ionosphere and the way the atmosphere of the Red Planet interacts with Sol and its solar wind.

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