New research about Mars atmosphere has been discovered

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According to new research by ASU scientists, Mars may have been born a blue and water-covered world, long before the Earth had been finished forming.

The discovery could open a window for scientists on an overlooked chapter in Martian history. The team’s research imply that early Mars was at least as promising a site for the origin of life as early as Earth was, if not more promising – long before Earth existed.

Dr. Steven Desch, Professor of Astrophysics spoke with us about this research.

“This was a modeling attempt. We’re trying to figure out from the starting point of the solar system how Mars might have grown. Usually the approach is to try to look at the rocks on Mars and the history of Mars and work backwards. So this was a modeling effort that indicated to us that Mars probably had a thick hydrogen atmosphere, which made it warm and had water,” Desch said.

The inspiration came from considering the effects of a hydrogen atmosphere. It had been considered before, but threads of evidence from rocks, clays and modeling efforts composed an extremely coherent story, according to Desch.

“Mostly Mars’s atmosphere is carbon dioxide, which is a powerful greenhouse gas, but Mars has too thin an atmosphere for it to make much of a difference. In fact, carbon dioxide freezes on the present day Mars,” Desch said. But long ago, Mars’s atmosphere was much denser.

When Mars was forming, it had a magma ocean. All of the chemicals in the mantel became part of the atmosphere, and hydrogen and carbon monoxide were two that stayed in the atmosphere when released, becoming greenhouse gases, Desch said.

“Hydrogen is a very light gas, and it’s very easy for sunlight to heat up the upper atmosphere of Mars and make those molecules escape. Over tens of millions of years, it will be gone,” Desch said.

Learning how Mars formed helps scientists further understand how Earth was formed.

Dr. Steven Desch, Professor of Astrophysics

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