For a long time, researchers have considered that Mars lost its liquid water very slowly. However, the assumption may be proved wrong. Researchers from Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) have discovered an atmospheric escape route on Mars, which may have helped Hydrogen move into space at a faster rate. The atmospheric escape route could have a special role in the planet’s loss of liquid water.
The change was first noticed in 2007 by NASA’s Hubble Telescope and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft. They found massive seasonal variations in Mars’ rate of hydrogen escape.
“This seems to happen every Martian year. We see efficient escape while the planet is close to the sun and less escape when it’s further away,” said Mike Chaffin, a research associate at LASP and lead author of the new study. “That tells us that the old explanation for Martian hydrogen escape is insufficient.”
Data shows that during the warmer season, the planet’s water molecules float higher than usual. After reaching in the middle atmosphere, they are more exposed to the ultraviolet ray from the sun, which splits them into oxygen and hydrogen. Since hydrogen is very light, it can easily escape Mars’ low gravity while oxygen is left behind.
“In this case, we had two unexpected findings: seasonal changes in hydrogen escape and excess water in the middle atmosphere. But taken together, these two unexpected things make sense,” said Chaffin. “It’s very satisfying as a scientist when that happens.”
Researchers hope to illustrate more findings with the help of LASP-led Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft and the European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter. It suggests that because of that atmospheric escape route, Mars may have lost water at wildly varying rates. After all, all planets can’t be guaranteed to behave like Earth.