NASA thinks it knows what happened to the water on Mars
Ever since humanity got a clear picture of what the surface of Mars was like, there have been two dominant questions: was there ever water on Mars, and if so, what happened to it? NASA essentially considers the first question settled, and now it thinks it might have the answer to the second as well.
The common current consensus is that Mars was once covered by vast oceans and lakes filled with water. It was every bit as wet as Earth, but that was a long time ago, a billion years or more. The question then becomes, what happened to all that water? Where did it go?
New data collected by NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft seems to tell the story of what happened.
A long, long time ago, Mars was bombarded by solar winds and intense radiation, strong enough that it caused around 65-percent of the gas in the atmosphere to be lost to space. With the atmosphere decimated, the liquid on the surface soon dried up in a process known as “sputtering.” The process destruction of Mars’ atmosphere didn’t happen quickly, rather it may have occurred over the course of millions – if not billions – of years. Regardless, the end result is the arid and inhospitable red planet we know today.
There is still a significant matter of liquid on Mars today. The polar caps are frozen liquid, and there is thought to be a massive frozen ocean under the surface. If there is life on Mars, it will likely be found in one of those bodies of water. When humans inevitably travel to Mars, finding out more about the existing water deposits will almost certainly be one of the top mission goals.
While the idea that sputtering caused the loss of water on Mars is still just a theory, it is backed up by convincing evidence. The researchers were able to gauge the amount of the noble gas argon in the Martian atmosphere and compare it to the levels NASA believes once existed on the planet, as determined by previous surveys. The rest was simple – or as simple as the process of analyzing data from an alien planet 34 million miles away can possibly be.
NASA’s theory isn’t exactly shocking, but the new research does seem to give us a theory as to what happened that is strong enough to become the consensus theory. It’s tough to say that we’ll ever be able to prove it conclusively, but unless something completely unexpected is revealed, the evidence is strong.