The Mars dust storm that killed the Opportunity Rover has given scientists at NASA something to think about. The planet-wide, monster dust storm that covered the red planet from May to July of 2018 is a clue to the past. And, after some carefully laid out simulations, scientists believe that similar super-storms could have blown Mars’ ancient water supply into space. 

Based on the data that Opportunity, Spirit and Curiosity have collected, scientists believe that Mars had a thick atmosphere and deep ocean that covered around 20% of the planet. About 4 billion years ago, things changed when Mars lost its magnetic field and its protection from solar radiation. As a result, its atmosphere was stripped by charged solar particles and Mars lost its ability to support liquid water on its surface.

Simulated images representing Mars dust storm. The sun darkens as the dust storm intensifies. (Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech/TAMU)

It looks like Mars’ dust storms, which are pretty common, aided the process of getting rid of all of that water. Scientists used the European-Russian ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) to track the movements of water vapor before and after the 2018 dust storm. The storm sent water molecules much higher into the Martian sky, where solar radiation breaks water molecules into their hydrogen and oxygen components and scatters them to space.  

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The research results were published in the  journal Nature.  “‘When you bring water to higher parts of the atmosphere, it gets blown away so much easier,’ study co-author Geronimo Villanueva, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement.”  – space.com.

 

 

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Jenny Flack

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