With how much solar flare affect the Earth, scientists have started looking at other planets that might also be affected, such as Mars. Through their studies, scientists have determined that solar flares have greatly affected Mars and solar winds are causing a lot of damage to the planet as well.
These two discoveries were found by the latest mission to Mars by NASA, called MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission). The reason behind the mission was to investigate the atmosphere around Mars and find out if there were any clues to its past climate and habitability. After a year of spinning around the Red Planet, the MAVEN spacecraft finally picked up some clues as to what might have caused Mars to lose its water.
Researchers found that a steady stream of particles and plasma from the sun were directly linked to a loss of about 100 grams of Mars’ atmosphere per second. There has been another space mission that has brought hints of this back called the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission.
On the subject of solar flares, MAVEN showed evidence that solar flares could take out relatively large chunks of Mars’ atmosphere if they are large enough. When a past solar flare in March occurred, MAVEN showed that the number of Mars’ ions that stream from the planet’s surface, jumped by a factor of ten. Scientist Bruce Jakosky, from the University of Colorado Boulder, noted that flares like these most likely are more common and intense than ones in the past, when the sun was younger, sloughing off much of Mars’ atmosphere.
Another clue found of the loss of atmosphere, in that same March, was an atmospheric light display that blanketed the Northern Hemisphere of Mars. In these displays MAVEN picked up energetic particles from the inside the displays that were hitting the skies of the Martian planet. Janet Luhmann, a space physicist at the University of California, notes that with the lack of a global magnetic field, unlike Earth, it does not have protection from the abundance of electrons that threaten to strip the planet of its atmosphere.
The MAVEN probe also recorded that there was a surprising amount of variability of ion abundances. This recorded information provides a couple of hints as to how the different atmospheric layers of Mars interact with each other. Previous reported dust particles have been found swirling around the planet giving the assumption that they were probably swept up from interstellar space instead of from the surface or raining down from the two moons Mars has around it.
MAVEN will be starting a new mission soon letting researchers take a look at how the leaking atmosphere responds during the changing of the planet’s seasons. However, if the project gets enough funding, the spacecraft will be able to get enough fuel to hang around the Red Planet for an eleven year solar cycle.
Categories: National News