Stripped by the Wind; How Mars Lost Atmosphere Due to the Charged Particles from the Sun
- What problem or scientific principle is discussed in the article?
The scientific principle discussed in this article focuses on factors that had led to the loss of argon among other gasses that were initially present in Mars. The article seeks to elucidate the reasons as to why atmospheric gasses escaped from Mars over time to space (Jakosky et al. 3). According to Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN), 65% of the argon gas that was initially present in the atmosphere has diffused to space. Additionally, Mars surface can no longer hold any liquid water because of the very cold state of the atmosphere and the depleted atmospheric layer which was discovered to be too thin to hold any liquid water. According to MAVEN, solar wind and radiation are two primary factors that caused the stripping of the Martian Atmosphere thereby transforming Mars into an inhabitable frigid desert world (Jakosky et al. 2).
- What is the significance of the problem or principle?
The significance of the problem revolves around factors that led to the transformation of Mars into a frigid desert world that could no longer support any form of life (Jakosky et al. 5). According to the research, atmospheric loss from the Martian atmosphere was as a result of two main processes; solar wind and radiation. Solar wind and radiation processes are described as crucial factors that resulted in the inhabitable state of planet Mars. Historically, Mars had been considered as one of the planets that could support life, however, as the planet cooled off and dried up, Mars became more unsuitable for the habitation of any life form.
- What methods or techniques were used to study the problem?
Jakosky and his team (MAVEN) were able to establish the loss of Martian atmosphere by measuring the atmospheric abundance of two different isotopes of argon gas (Jakosky et al. 5). As a result of density differences between the two isotopes, the lighter of the two argon isotopes readily escaped through space where as the heavier isotope became incorporated with the remaining gasses (Jakosky et al. 6). To estimate the percentage of the atmospheric gas that diffused to space, the team had to carry out an analysis by measuring the amount of two isotopes that were present in the upper part of the atmosphere and at surface of the atmosphere. These measurements were taken with the intent of analyzing the relative abundance of the two isotopes.
Argon as a noble gas is chemically unreactive and can therefore not react or infiltrate between rocks (Jakosky et al. 7). According to MAVEN, argon can only escape to space through “sputtering” caused by the solar wind. MAVEN and the team were only able to determine the amount of argon gas that was lost to space by measuring the argon gas that was lost through the sputtering process. The total amount of argon that had been lost was thereby used to calculate the number of other atoms and molecules that had escaped to space during the sputtering process. CO2 is an example of a molecule that was lost to space through the sputtering process.
The team performed its measurements on the amount of gas lost through the sputtering process by using Martian upper atmosphere data. MAVEN’s Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer (NGIMS) served as the primary instrument used to measure and retrieve the Martian upper atmospheric data (Jakosky et al. 6). According to Paul Mahaffy, the combined measurements provided clear estimations of the amount of Martian argon that had been lost to space (Jakosky et al. 3).
- What conclusion(s) did the investigators make about the problem?
In conclusion, Mars can no longer support any form of life due to the stripping of Martian atmosphere. According to MAVEN, solar wind and radiation are the two primary processes that have transformed planet Mars into a frigid desert world that can no longer sustain any life forms.
Jakosky, Bruce M., et al. “The Mars atmosphere and volatile evolution (MAVEN) mission.” Space Science Reviews 195.1-4 (2015): 3-48.