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MAVEN Spacecraft Detects Metal In Martian Atmosphere

First Posted: Apr 11, 2017 04:30 AM EDT
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Over the last two years, MAVEN spacecraft had identified sodium ions, magnesium and iron in the upper atmosphere of Mars. Recently, MAVEN detected again electrically charged metal atoms (ions) in its upper atmosphere. This new discovery could uncover unseen activity in the upper atmosphere known as the ionosphere of the Red Planet.

The findings of the discovery were published in Geophysical Research Letters on April 10, 2017. It was led by Joseph Grebowsky of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and other colleagues, according to Phys.org.

Grebowsky said that MAVEN had detected the permanent visibility of metal ions in the upper atmosphere of a planet other than Earth. He further said that these metallic ions could be used to understand motion in the ionosphere of Mars.

The identified metal arises from a constant rain of minute meteoroids onto the planet Mars. It vaporizes when the meteoroid hits the atmosphere of the Red Planet. Then, the metal atoms transformed into electrically charged ions once the electrons were torn away by other charged atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere of Mars.

The researchers also discovered that the detected metal ions behaved in a different way on Mars than on Earth. On the planet Earth, the magnetic fields and the ionospheric winds force the metal ions into layers in its interior. On the other hand, Mars' magnetic fields could be identified in particular regions of its crust and they just saw the layers near these regions. Grebowsky said that the metal ion distributions are totally different than of the Earth.

The discovery could help the scientists in understanding the ionosphere and the atmospheric chemistry of the planet Earth as well as other planets including Mars. The scientists could better understand how the metal ions affect the shaping or behavior of high-altitude clouds. This could also give insights for calculating the consequences of the interplanetary dust impacts in the unexplored atmosphere of the Solar System, according to EurekAlert. 

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