When an oxygen atom exists as if by itself, chemists call it atomic oxygen. But why should we care if we find him in the atmosphere of Mars or not?
NASA and the German Aerospace Center recently made a statement: It seems that scientists noticed atomic oxygen in the atmosphere of Mars, which could potentially tell us quite a lot about life on Mars, both in the past and in present time.
As Ian O'Neill explains in a special report for the Seeker Daily, the discovery was remarkable not only for what the scientists found, but also how they found it.
The technicians deployed the SOFIA telescope, which is essentially an air observatory — an advanced reflecting telescope tied to the converted Boeing 747. Flying at its 41,000-foot cruising altitude, the SOFIA telescope can get a much clearer idea of space than the instruments we manage on the ground.
Thus, SOFIA was able to make the first direct measurements of atomic oxygen in the atmosphere of Mars.
Atomic oxygen is a highly reactive form of the oxygen we breathe. These are essentially two oxygen atoms joined together, or O2. When an oxygen atom exists solo, it is referred to as atomic oxygen. These free oxygen atoms are very needy - they tend to try to capture other chemicals, such as carbon, nitrogen, or even other oxygen atoms, creating breathable O2. Atomic oxygen is rarely found on Earth, at sea level, at least. But by measuring how much material is in the Martian atmosphere, we can get a lot of additional information about the planet and its past.
For example, scientists suspect that Mars used to be much warmer and wetter than it is now. These conditions are much more favorable for the life of microbes.
Understanding how different types of oxygen develop over time, we can get an idea of how much breathing oxygen and how much ozone was around Mars in the past. These findings, in turn, can help us determine whether life on Mars was earlier - and if so, can it still hide under these eerie red rocks.