The search for Mars’ missing carbon is over. A recent research has found that the presumably large ‘missing’ carbon reserve which the planet should have had is not necessary to explain the planet’s past water abundance and that the Martian air was not unusually dense millions of years ago.
It had been supposed that Mars’ carbon-rich atmosphere was at one point in the past thick enough to facilitate the elevation of the planet’s surface temperatures enough to allow liquid water to form in oceans. This had caused scientists to consistently search for a left-over carbon reservoir dating from that period somewhere inside the planet’s soil, but so far the no such carbon reservoir has been found.
Researchers have established that the ancient Mars was significantly different from the way the planet is today and that the Red Planet used to have an atmosphere that could have facilitated the appearance of water and, therefore, of life. However it has been concluded that the dense atmosphere which allowed for warmer temperatures and the presence of liquid water was eventually stripped away by powerful solar flares.
The reason why Mars was stripped of its atmosphere unlike Earth is that it does not possess the natural magnetic field that our planet does. This magnetic field could have protected Mars’s atmosphere against the solar winds which eventually stripped away a significant portion of it, according to recent research.
According to scientists carbon atoms remaining as residue from the Martian atmosphere could have been absorbed into the planet’s soil but the tests that have been performed on samples of Martian soil so far have shown very few traces and low levels of such carbon atoms.
Yuk Yung, a professor of planetary science at the California Institute of Technology and an author on a new research paper published recently detailing the search for Mars’ carbon reservoir, explains that there has been found evidence suggesting that the planet was once dense as well as rich in carbon.
His team tested fragments of meteorites that had originated on Mars but that had landed on Earth and looked for the ratio of two types of carbon in these samples. These types of carbon, known as carbon 12 and carbon 13, are typically found in the Martian atmosphere. This ratio would explain how Mars’ ancient atmosphere was lost.
A more recent analysis using the Curiosity rover deployed on the red planet was performed in order to determine what that same ratio is now. By comparing the ratio in the meteorite samples with the new measurements scientists have found that Mars’ ancient atmosphere was not as high as initially predicted by scientists. This finding changes scientist’s expectations of the levels of carbon that could be found on Mars and implies that a massive carbon reservoir might not necessarily exist within the soil.
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