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Metal Layers Discovered on Mars' Atmosphere -- Is it Similar to Earth's Atmosphere?

Apr 13, 2017 02:42 PM EDT
Close-up Of Mars
The Martian atmosphere is full of metal ions. The Earth's atmosphere is also filled with ions however, scientists say the two atmospheres are different.
(Photo : NASA/Getty Images)

The thin Martian atmosphere, although relatively useless in preserving any life form, proves to be interesting. Currently, scientists say that metal layers were detected in the atmosphere.

The discovery of metal ions in the atmosphere of Mars makes it a bit more Earth-like. This is the first time a permanent metal presence in an atmosphere was detected aside from that of the Earth's.

"MAVEN has made the first direct detection of the permanent presence of metal ions in the ionosphere of a planet other than Earth," Joseph Grebowsky of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland said in a press release. "Because metallic ions have long lifetimes and are transported far from their region of origin by neutral winds and electric fields, they can be used to infer motion in the ionosphere, similar to the way we use a lofted leaf to reveal which way the wind is blowing."

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) is responsible for the discovery. Although it recently suffered from a halt to avoid collision with Phobos, a Martian moon, the probe is now active again.

The mission aims to discover how Mars lost its air and, potentially, life forms on the planet if there were any. In the last two years, MAVEN reportedly detected metal elements on the Martian atmosphere including magnesium, iron and sodium ions. According to further analysis, some metals are permanently part of the Martian atmosphere.

"The metal comes from a constant rain of tiny meteoroids onto the red planet," a NASA official said in a statement. "When a high-speed meteoroid hits the Martian atmosphere, it vaporizes. Metal atoms in the vapor trail get some of their ionospheres, transforming the metal atoms into electrically charged ions."

Although metals were found on Earth and Mars' atmospheres, they do not behave similarly. The inconsistent presence of magnetic field on Mars makes its atmosphere different from Earth. Without a global field, no layers can form, according to a report.

Because of the discovery, scientists believe that the Martian atmosphere is indeed an atmosphere with some similarities with that of Earth's. However, it still behaves differently and with characteristics that experts are still trying to figure out.

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