As Life-Seeking Spacecraft Lands On Mars, Planet Loses Water Into Space

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NASA’s Perseverance rover will contact down on Mars Thursday (Feb. 18) to seek for life, however the water that life wants continues to bleed away from the Red Planet.

Water used to run in abundance on the floor, amassing in lakes or maybe oceans, however billions of years later we all know Mars is essentially a windy desert, save for water reserves on the caps and maybe underground. We’re fairly certain water has been eroding by the environment into house, and new analysis means that mud storms and polar ice cap releases speed up water loss over brief time intervals.

New analysis from the European-Russian ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) tracked extra water loss within the environment following a world mud storm in 2018, a smaller however intense regional mud storm in 2019, and a seasonal launch of water from the south polar ice cap throughout the newest Martian summer time.

“The changing seasons on Mars — and in particular the relatively hot summer in the southern hemisphere — seems to be the driving force behind our new observations,” mentioned Håkan Svedhem, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) TGO undertaking scientist, in an announcement.

TGO will quickly pair up its observations with the long-running NASA Mars Atmospheric and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission to higher perceive what drives the water loss and the implications for Martian historical past and life. This info will feed into Perseverance’s observations on the bottom at Jezero Crater, because it caches probably the most promising rocks for a future sample-return mission whereas observing your entire surroundings for attainable indicators of historic life.

TGO tracked the water loss utilizing a metric often known as the deuterium to hydrogen ratio (D/H), which merely put, research vapor from strange water and “semi-heavy” water that features deuterium. Ordinary water is lighter and tends to bleed into house, whereas the heavier deuterium water stays behind. TGO now exhibits that the D/H ratio within the environment modifications dramatically by altitude and season.

And monitoring water isn’t the one factor TGO has carried out. The group additionally reported the primary indicators of hydrogen chloride within the environment of Mars. Scientists have been attempting to find chlorine-based gases to seek out volcanism on the floor of Mars, however hydrogen chloride isn’t an indicator of that form of exercise. Rather, what we’re seeing is proof of sea salt, ESA mentioned.

“In a process very similar to that seen on Earth, salts in the form of sodium chloride – remnants of evaporated oceans and embedded in the dusty surface of Mars – are lifted into the atmosphere by winds. Sunlight warms the atmosphere causing dust, together with water vapor released from ice caps, to rise,” ESA said.

“The salty dust reacts with atmospheric water to release chlorine, which itself then reacts with molecules containing hydrogen to create hydrogen chloride. Further reactions could see the chlorine or hydrochloric acid-rich dust return to the surface, perhaps as perchlorates, a class of salt made of oxygen and chlorine.”

That point out of perchlorates is notable, as a result of a polar mission known as NASA Phoenix discovered perchlorates within the floor of Mars slightly greater than a decade in the past. Perchlorates are typically thought of poisonous to microbes or vegetation, though a couple of that we all know of on Earth might nonetheless dwell in these situations. That mentioned, microbes on Mars additionally have to cope with quite a lot of ultraviolet on the floor, which is why some scientists consider any life should be sheltered underground — whether it is there within the first place.

Two papers concerning the hydrogen chloride and water have been printed in Science Advances, whereas a 3rd paper on the hydrogen chloride has been accepted for publication in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

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