NASA researchers have just detected atomic oxygen in Mars’ upper atmosphere.
It is hoped the discovery could help astronomers identify how gases escaped from the Red Planet long ago. However, this isn’t a first – oxygen was observed in the Martian atmosphere back in the 1970s.
So why such a long gap? SOFIA project scientist Pamela Marcum explains:
Atomic oxygen in the Martian atmosphere is notoriously difficult to measure.
To observe the far-infrared wavelengths needed to detect atomic oxygen, researchers must be above the majority of Earth’s atmosphere and use highly sensitive instruments, in this case a spectrometer.
Basically the Earth’s skies are so dense and moist they make it extremely difficult to accurately see the Universe lying beyond it.
So, to overcome this problem, researchers use the high vantage point and specialised equipment designed to ignore Earth’s atmosphere to make their calculations.
The team doesn’t yet have any exact figures on just how much oxygen is in the Martian mesosphere but they are continuing to use SOFIA to gauge other areas of the planet.
So it sounds like we’re going to have to wait for the full results, but it’s still okay to get excited about terraforming Mars…