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NASA’s MAVEN Mission: Mars Water Does Not Escape Gently Into Space, What Does It Imply?

First Posted: Oct 20, 2016 06:28 AM EDT
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NASA's MAVEN mission, that has been investigating Mars' upper atmosphere for a whole Martian year that lasts two Earth years, has determined that escaping water from the planet has ups and downs and it does not go gently into space. The finding is reportedly based on data collected by the MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) spacecraft that revealed details about the water loss.

According to NASA scientists, the escape rate of the water was highest when the Red Planet was at its nearest point to the sun, and lowest at its farthest location from our star. The water loss rate also had a pronounced variation, with the amount of hydrogen escaping being 10 times more at its maximum point.

The researchers based their observations on the intricate measurements made by the instruments aboard the MAVEN. Incidentally, the hydrogen in the upper atmosphere of Mars comes from the water vapor present in atmosphere's lower reaches. Sunlight can break an atmospheric water molecule, and in the process release the two hydrogen atoms from the oxygen atom they had been tied to. The hydrogen can then be acted upon by numerous processes at play in the planet's upper atmosphere, making the gateway for its escape.

For a long time, scientists had assumed the water loss from Mars to be a constant motion, somewhat like a tire's slow leak. However, that belief was gradually changed, when the analysis of data collected from ESA's Mars Express orbiter and NASA's Hubble Space Telescope revealed unexpected fluctuations. Now, the recent data received from MAVEN is further evidence of a fluctuating water loss.

Further studies about the water loss, will enable the MAVEN team to know about the factors that contribute to its escape, implying that scientists will be able to determine the amount of water lost over the past billions of years. "MAVEN is giving us unprecedented detail about hydrogen escape from the upper atmosphere of Mars, and this is crucial for helping us figure out the total amount of water lost over billions of years," said Ali Rahmati, MAVEN team member. "MAVEN's findings reveal what is happening in Mars' atmosphere now, but over time this type of loss contributed to the global change from a wetter environment to the dry planet we see today."

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