NASA Has Detected Atomic Oxygen On Mars’ Atmosphere - Physics-Astronomy.org

NASA Has Detected Atomic Oxygen On Mars’ Atmosphere

The airborne telescope SOFIA has measured atomic oxygen on Mars’ atmosphere, the first such measurement in four decades.
But don’t get carried away too quickly — atomic oxygen on mars is very different from the stuff we breathe on earth.
The Detection
The last time atomic oxygen was detected in the atmosphere of Mars was through NASA’s Viking and Mariner missions in the 1970s.
This time around, researchers used the airplane-turned-telescope observatory called SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy). SOFIA is run by NASA in partnership with the German Aerospace Center.


SOFIA, which flies between 37,000 and 45,000 feet above sea level, actually measured about half the amount of atomic oxygen on Mars that the researchers were expecting — perhaps due to variations in the atmosphere.
These atoms were found in the upper layers of the Martian atmosphere, called the Mesosphere.
“Atomic oxygen in the Martian atmosphere is notoriously difficult to measure,” said Pamela Marcum, SOFIA project scientist. “To observe the far-infrared wavelengths needed to detect atomic oxygen, researchers must be above the majority of Earth’s atmosphere and use highly sensitive instruments, in this case a spectrometer. SOFIA provides both capabilities.”
Scientists detected only about half the amount of oxygen expected, which may be due to variations in the Martian atmosphere.
On Earth, our atmosphere contains the air we breathe, protects us from the Sun’s harmful radiation, enables the cycling of water, and keeps the Sun’s heat from escaping back into space.
Scientists believe that billions of years ago, Mars also had a thick atmosphere capable of sustaining liquid water and even life. But over time, the planet evolved to become cold and barren.
If Mars ever supported life, those gases may have played a critical role.
Atomic oxygen affects how easily gases escape the Martian atmosphere, so these measurements will likely help uncover more about why and how the protective gases enveloping Mars eroded over the last few billions of years.

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