The Red Planet was once blue

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  • Published: Mar 6, 2015
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Atomic / NMR Knowledge Base / MRI Spectroscopy / Raman / X-ray Spectrometry / Proteomics / Chemometrics & Informatics / Base Peak / UV/Vis Spectroscopy / Infrared Spectroscopy

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Earthbound measurements of the isotopic signature of water vapour in the Martian atmosphere suggest that the Red Planet once had an ocean larger than the Arctic Ocean, NASA says.

While the Martian rovers and orbiters continue to gather unique data about the Mars and its history, let's not forget that instruments on Earth can still make crucial contributions. News just out from NASA confirms this.

Observatories in Chile and Hawaii have been scrutinising the Martian atmosphere, particularly the isotopic composition of the water vapour using telescopes with high resolution infrared spectrometers. When the ratio of H2O to its isomeric form HDO was measured over six Earth years, equivalent to three Martian years, regional variations and seasonal changes were observed, as reported in Science.

However, the results from the polar regions which still bear ice caps suggest that they have lost about 6.5 times the amount of water than that which remains now. That equates to a historical volume of 20 million cubic kilometres. When the current terrain is taken into account, a possible location for the water would be an ocean in the Northern Plains, covering about 19% of the planet.

"With Mars losing that much water, the planet was very likely wet for a longer period of time than was previously thought, suggesting it might have been habitable for longer," said Michael Mumma, one of the authors. What this means for the likelihood of ancient life on Mars remains to be seen.

Image: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center

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