NASA Scientists have, for the first time in four decades, successfully identified atomic oxygen in the atmosphere of the red planet using the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
The last time any traces of atomic oxygen were sampled in the Martian atmosphere was in the 1970’s and it seemed to have gone missing ever since.
The oxygen molecules found in the top layers of the red planet’s atmosphere present new questions and answers that we may have for the red planet, and also may provide clues about the red planet’s formation in our solar system and its history.
In terms of history, we understand that Mars may have had a thick atmosphere just like that of the Earth at one point, but after so much solar radiation stripping it away from a below-par magnetic field to protect it, Mars has a very bare atmosphere now.
Unlike the Earth, which has an abundance of oxygen and other gasses that make up the air we breathe, the existence of atomic oxygen in the Martian atmosphere isn't the same. This discovery doesn’t mean that humans could walk on the surface of the red planet and just start breathing like they do here on Earth.
The atmospheric composition on Mars is still very different, and Mars’ atmosphere is nearly nonexistent from a nearly dead magnetic field that no longer protects the red planet from harmful radiation from the Sun.
Oxygen molecules there are few and far in between, as made evident from its nearly 40-year hide-and-go-seek.
With this information, NASA hopes to better understand the past of the planet’s atmosphere, which may provide clues as to why the planet is so dry and desolate today. It may also help answer the question of, ‘is or was there ever life on Mars?’
Source: NASA via Business Insider