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Sun Stripped Away Mars' Ancient Atmosphere with Powerful Solar Wind (VIDEO)

First Posted: Nov 05, 2015 04:14 PM EST

NASA may have discovered what happened to Mars' atmosphere. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission has found that solar wind stripped the planet's atmosphere clean.

"Mars appears to have had at hick atmosphere warm enough to support liquid water, which is a key ingredient and medium for life as we currently know it," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate, in a news 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."

MAVEN measurements indicate that the solar wind strips away gas at a rate of about 100 grams (equivalent to roughly ¼ pound) every second. This loss becomes significant over time, and increases significantly during solar storms. In addition, researchers believe that the loss rate was much higher billions of years ago, when the sun was young and more active.

When a series of dramatic solar storms hit Mars' atmosphere in March 2015, MAVEN found that the loss was accelerated. The combination of greater loss rates and increased solar storms in the past may mean that the loss of atmosphere to space was a major process in a changing Martian climate.

The findings reveal exactly what might have occurred to the Martian atmosphere over time. This may just tell researchers that there could have been life at one point on Mars before its atmosphere was completely stripped.

Want to learn more? Check out the video below, courtesy of YouTube.

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