NASA Now Knows Why Mars Became Uninhabitable

Written by Andrew Follett

Mars’ atmosphere is full of metal, potentially explaining how the planet became uninhabitable, according to new results from a NASA probe published Monday.

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) found metal ions capable of showing how the planet’s upper atmosphere behaves. Mars doesn’t have a global magnetic field like Earth, preventing metal ions from being locked into the atmosphere in layers. This helps explain how the martian atmosphere was lost to space, eventually rendering the planet uninhabitable.

“MAVEN has made the first direct detection of the permanent presence of metal ions in the ionosphere of a planet other than Earth,” Dr. Joseph Grebowsky, a scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a press statement. “Because metallic ions have long lifetimes and are transported far from their region of origin by neutral winds and electric fields, they can be used to infer motion in the ionosphere, similar to the way we use a lofted leaf to reveal which way the wind is blowing.”

The probe studies the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere to determine how the planet lost most of its air, transforming it into a cold desert world.

The new study is the latest to determine the Red Planet may have contained the potential to support life.

Large parts of Mars were probably capable of supporting life for over 100 million years, according to new observations from NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity published in December. The rover even found organic material “all over” the Red Planet. (RELATED: Life May Have Existed On Mars For Over 100 Million Years, Rover Data Concludes)

Curiosity observed 650 feet of rocks laid down over hundreds of millions of years and found that Mars’ environment changed considerably over its geologic history, but it would have been possible for life to form or survive.

Scientists at the University of Texas published research in November that said some volcanic areas on Mars could be ideal chemical environment for life to develop and flourish even in the present day. Lava from volcanoes and ice from glaciers could combine to form a fairly warm environment that has access to a lot of water ice and potentially even liquid water. (RELATED: This Could Be The Best Place To Look For Life On Mars)

Geologists announced in September they found hydrogen, a critical component necessary to support life, can be produced by earthquakes on Earth. They concluded that the same kind of “Marsquakes” could produce hydrogen on Mars. The Red Planet’s atmosphere is rich in oxygen, so an ample supply of hydrogen could mean that water is more common on Mars than generally believed.

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