MAVEN solves the mystery of Mars’ disappearing atmosphere
NASA solves yet another mystery revolving around Mars that has been mind boggling scientists for decades. A couple of months ago, we heard an elated NASA disclose that they found water on Mars, and recently MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission) solved the mystery of Mars’ disappearing atmosphere.
Since the past 15 years, rovers like Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity have all made a trip to Mars and have also been successful in uncovering compelling evidence that Mars was once covered by an ocean. We are familiar with some striking similarities between Mars and Earth but why did Mars become the way it is today?
Mars was once a much warmer planet, possibly with an oxygen-rich atmosphere but now has become hard, cold and brittle. MAVEN has helped resolve this fundamental question; this discovery is huge and can play an important role in finding other hospitable planets.
1 Solar wind, the main culprit
MAVEN was sent out to find the mystery of Mars’ disappearing atmosphere, the count of ions and also understand the working method of the magnetic fields of Mars. MAVEN found that the main reason for Mars’ deteriorating atmosphere is the Solar wind in the form of Solar flares/storms.Now, theses Solar flares/storms happen and hit Earth too justas they hit Mars, but the main reason Earth doesn’t get seriously affected is due to our magnetic field.
Mars lacks a global magnetic field and due to this, the entire planet feels the storm! Earlier, we had discovered that the rate of atmospheric loss was around a quarter pound per second but now the factor goes up to 20, which means that it is the worst attack ever!
2 MAVEN discovers more
MAVEN made more discoveries that are very significant to understand the evolution of Mars so that we can draw parallels with other similar planets (if there are any) and to understand the evolution of Earth in a better manner too.The most important one was that water was active on Mars for the initial hundred million years of the Solar System; the planet was abundant with oceans and rivers. Not only this, but proof of rains have been recorded too!
However, around some time less than a billion years after Mars was formed, magnetic field ceased to exist and hence, stripping the planet of its protective layer that had saved Mars from the Solar storms.
3 Could it be Big Bang Theory?
Sun has been the solemn sequence star for a billion years, but even Sun goes through periods of lesser/ more activity. Not many of us are aware of Carrington-level event that struck Mars. Yes, this event struck Mars instead of Earth! These events are frequent on stellar time scales (roughly 500 years). But the one that hit Mars didn’t just dilute its atmosphere, but the atmosphere was sucked away or in short, resulted in Mars’ disappearing atmosphere.
The solar wind is made of fast moving particles that are mostly protons, and the wind strikes Mars at about 1,000,000 mph (447,000 m/s, or about 0.15% the speed of light); this is incredibly fast. The wind collides with particles so fast that the particles have enough energy to escape from Mars’ gravity. The red planet still loses about 100 grams (a quarter of a pound) of atmosphere every second and this has gone up by 20 percent.
If the scenario was any different, our beloved Earth could have had to face the same fate! But luckily, the magnetic fields around Earth show no signs of ceasing. Therefore, our atmosphere could be safe for another million years or so. (Hopefully!)
These findings can intensify and narrow down our search to find other planets that harbour life. The existing magnetic fields on Mars are very weak and cannot protect a planet. The mission has shed light on the importance of the magnetic fields that surrounds planets; it shows that we need it not only for mere protection but also for sustenance of life. Without the magnetic field, there wouldn’t be ideal temperature, the planet would freeze and there would be no chance of terra formation.
Kudos! To NASA and mission MAVEN as this information can be used by scientists to predict a fate similar to Mars and effectively prevent it. We may soon have more surprising information, which could make the distant dream of living on Mars a possible theory.