The solar storm that passed the Earth struck Mars last March and thus confirmed that the Sun pushes the Martian atmosphere, and does so with such speed that it leaves the planet airless for a couple of billions of years, if not earlier.
This discovery, published along with other studies in the journal Science this week and described in detail in other 44 articles in Geophysical Research Letters, helps to understand how Mars from a planet with a warm and humid climate at the beginning of its history, theoretically capable of supporting such earthly life, turned into the present cold and dry planet.
Not only solar activity destroys the atmosphere of Mars. But the first high-resolution images taken by NASA’s Mars mission under the acronym MAVEN (from Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution - “Evolution of the Martian Atmosphere and Volatile Matter”) suggest that the Sun may be the main enemy of the planet.
The case described at the beginning is an interplanetary coronal mass ejection (solar gas and magnetic radiation explosion), which reached Mars on March 8, 2015. It caused the appearance of peculiar magnetic “tentacles” resembling ropes erupting from the Martian magnetic pockets for more than 3100 miles into open space.
During the impact of the solar storm, ions of oxygen and carbon dioxide were released into the atmosphere and further into open space, flying at a speed exceeding the normal one by 10 times. “This extraordinary event has begun and once! Mars has lost a part of the atmosphere, ”said Jasper Halekas, a scientist with the MAVEN project, told Discovery News.
Scientists say that in the past, Mars lost more atmosphere during solar storms than it does now, because the Sun was probably more active during its youth.
It is still unknown how much cosmic radiation Mars loses, and what chemical reactions of atmospheric gases take place during this leak.
Scientists also have not yet established whether there is any increase in the Martian atmosphere.
But, based on measurements made by the MAVEN mission during the March storm, and other events on the Sun, Halekas believes that Mars can completely lose the atmosphere in about two billion years.
Other teams of scientists are trying to understand the rate of depletion of other gases, such as the isotopes of argon-38 and argon-36.
“Both are formed naturally and are not radiogenic. As soon as they enter the atmosphere, they remain there, but various processes can remove them from there. Using them, you can accurately measure how much gas was lost, ”planetary scientist Bruce Jacowski from the University of Colorado, a leading researcher at the MAVEN project, told Discovery News.
Ultimately, scientists intend to use the results of the research project MAVEN to unravel what happened to the water on Mars. The first results speak in favor of the theories according to which most of the water was scattered into space, and was not bound by ice under the surface of the planet.