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Mars Has Been Losing Atmosphere For Four Billion Years

Curiosity

The Curiosity rover is finding that Mars will only become less hospitable to life as time goes on:

The Mars rover Curiosity is doing more than channeling its inner tourist and snapping photos every chance it gets. Two new papers appearing in this week’s issue of Science are the first to come out of the Mars Science Laboratory that talk about the planet’s surface. Both papers say that Mars has been steadily losing its atmosphere over the past 4 billion years.

This isn’t the first time that NASA has measured the concentration of gases in the Martian atmosphere. “There was really groundbreaking work back in the ’70s with the Viking landers,” Paul Mahaffy, the lead author behind one of the papers and a NASA scientist, told ABC News. “But those landers were a more primitive version of the thing that’s landed on Mars now.”

(…)

One of the leading theories explaning this abnormality is a Pluto-sized object that rammed into Mars about four and a half billion years ago. The collision disrupted the planet’s magnetic field, which in turn led to an abrupt loss of the planet’s atmosphere. Following that abrupt loss, Mars has been slowly, but surely, losing its atmosphere to space. “The data we have doesn’t prove this,” said Webster. “But it does fall in line with the theory.”

The Martian atmosphere is also being  stripped away by Solar Winds, a phenomenon that doesn’t impact Earth’s atmosphere thanks largely due to significant differences between the magnetic fields of the two planets. Those same differences in the magnetic fields, among other phenomenon, also mean that the Martian surface gets bombarded by harmful cosmic radiation to far greater degree than Earth does. All this suggests that any manned mission to Mars is going to be quite a difficult mission indeed.

H/T: Vodkapundit

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. anjin-san says:

    Meanwhile, back on earth, the house appropriations committee is cutting NASA’s budget. Enjoy the future China, apparently the US has decided not to participate in it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  2. stonetools says:

    Sigh!
    I would have loved the real Mars to be the Mars of the SF books of my youth -old, but alive, with diverse, ancient civilizations living beside canals in deep valleys. But ER Burroughs and Ray Bradbury got it wrong.
    Makes me want to clutch good old Earth just a little bit tighter. We better make damn sure we don’t f$%k up this planet, we don’t get a chance for a do over on any other world we can get to for the foreseeable future.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  3. PJ says:

    @stonetools:

    We better make damn sure we don’t f$%k up this planet, we don’t get a chance for a do over on any other world we can get to for the foreseeable future.

    Actually, God reboots it all every 6000 years or so. Then he plants some fossils, chuckles, and zones out for a couple of millennia.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  4. al-Ameda says:

    I wonder if Senator Inhofe is aware of this?
    cc: Newt Gingrich

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @PJ:

    Actually, God reboots it all every 6000 years or so.

    You know… this is a bad Idea. I mean, to write this kind of stuff.

    After all, somebody wrote a fairy tale down 4000 years ago, and now we have wars over whose fairy tale is better.

    Be careful.

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