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NASA: Solar Winds Blowing Away Mars Atmosphere

Artist’s rendering of a solar storm hitting Mars and stripping ions from the planet's upper atmosphere. Credits: NASA/GSFC

Ever since scientists discovered evidence of water on Mars, they’ve been trying to figure out what happened to it. Now, they’re one step closer to figuring that out.

Observations from NASA’s MAVEN satellite – currently orbiting Mars – show that solar winds are blowing the atmosphere away from the planet.

It’s believed the red planet was once covered in water. But as the atmosphere went away, so did the water.

MAVEN Principle Investigator Bruce Jakowsky says the findings are important in discovering the history of Mars.

“If we want to look backward in time we can’t just extrapolate the process, the escape rate, without understanding how escape is occurring,” says Jakowsky. “For the first time we have measurements that tell us not only the escape rate of gas out the top of the atmosphere lost to space, but the processes that control it.”

Currently, the atmosphere of Mars loses about a quarter-pound of atoms each day.

The Earth is subjected to these same solar winds, but an active magnetic field protects us from atmospheric loss.

LISTEN: Jim Garvin, Chief Scientist NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, explains what MAVEN’s findings mean for future Mars exploration.

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Brendan Byrne

About Brendan Byrne

Space Reporter and 'Intersection' Producer

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts "Are We There Yet?", WMFE's space exploration podcast He also helps produce WMFE's twice-weekly public affairs show "Intersection," working with host Matthew Peddie to shape the ... Read Full Bio »