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NASA's Maven Probe Observes Ups and Downs of Water Escape on Mars

Oct 21, 2016 05:13 AM EDT
NASA Announces New Results From Mars MAVEN Mission
NASA's MAVEN probes observes the fluctuating water escape from the surface of Mars.
(Photo : Win McNamee/Getty Image)

NASA's MAVEN probe took an infrared image of Mars, capturing its 'nightglow', but that's not all MAVEN has to offer. The mission also observed the ups and downs of water escape from the Martian atmosphere.

NASA MAVEN has investigated the Martian atmosphere for a whole year to be able to observe its activities. During the observation, the probe managed to identify the movement of escaping water from Mars and apparently, the water that escapes from the atmosphere does not go into the outer space gently.

To be able to determine the ups and downs of escaping water from Mars, the Mars Atmosphere Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft uses a different and innovative equipment to measure the activities in the Martian atmosphere. MAVEN observed the hydrogen escape and it has resulted to another observation about water loss in the atmosphere. Based on MAVEN's study, hydrogen escape is at its peak when the red planet is closest to the Sun and vice versa, meaning the least amount of hydrogen loss happens when the planet is at its farthest point away from the Sun. However, the intriguing fact is that hydrogen loss is not consistent and it varies every time. At times, there are 10 times more hydrogen escaping from the atmosphere.

 "MAVEN is giving us unprecedented detail about hydrogen escape from the upper atmosphere of Mars, and this is crucial for helping us figure out the total amount of water lost over billions of years," Ali Rahmati, a MAVEN team member at the University of California at Berkeley, and a scientists tasked to interpret MAVEN's data said in a press release.

The water or hydrogen on the red planet's atmosphere originates from the water vapor coming from the lower atmosphere. The heat of the sun that will then release the hydrogen atoms from the oxygen can break the molecules. This whole chemical process leads to the water escape from the Martian atmosphere. 

It was initially believed that the water loss has a constant volume. However, recent observations negate the initial theory. The observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and ESA's Mars Express also show fluctuations of water escape.

But in order to further quantify the amount, more observations and measurements need to be conducted, as there are only a "handful" of data available to scientists today. Nevertheless, the observations from MAVEN and other NASA and ESA probes prove that there might be something more about the escape of water from the Martian atmosphere worth observing further.

The new MAVEN measurements are painting a remarkably comprehensive picture of the hydrogen cycle at Mars, which we had only caught a few brief glimpses of before MAVEN's arrival," Jasper Halekas, a MAVEN team member said in a statement.


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