OCT 08, 2016 09:12 AM PDT

Mars' Crust May Affect the Planet's Atmospheric Composition

NASA has been exploring Mars since the 1960’s, but it wasn’t until today’s modern technology and advanced computers that they’ve been able to answer so many unanswered questions about the red planet. One of those is the abundance of certain isotopes in Mars’ atmosphere.
 
Using the Curiosity Rover, which first started crawling around on the red planet’s surface in 2012, NASA has been able to study the chemical content of Mars’ surface and atmosphere. In particular, they can use the on-board Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments to measure chemical composition and properties.
 

Mars doesn't have a super robust atmosphere, but it does contain some curious isotopes.

 
One of the more recent findings is the higher presence of krypton and xenon isotopes in the atmosphere than originally thought, both of which are “chemical variants” of the two elements because they have more neutrons than the basic form of the element.
 
It’s worth noting that these isotopes exist in greater amounts on Mars than they do on Earth, and scientists think they might know why.
 
In a study published in the Earth and Planetary Science Letters, NASA explains how Mars’ surface, the chemicals embedded in the crust themselves, could be contributing to the existence of these isotopes.
 
"What we found is that earlier studies of xenon and krypton only told part of the story," said Pamela Conrad, study lead author and SAM's deputy principal investigator at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "SAM is now giving us the first complete in situ benchmark against which to compare meteorite measurements."
 
In essence, some of the isotopic existence may be a result of meteorites striking Mars, but that’s certainly not the only source of these isotopes.
 
Using static mass spectrometry, a way to analyze mere trace amounts of gases or isotopes, NASA was able to come up with the conclusions that some of the isotopes didn’t quite form as expected, suggesting there was more to the mystery than just meteorites.
 
The new theory comes by way of a natural process known as neutron capture, which is where the isotopes may be formed inside of the planet’s crust before being released into the atmosphere. Barium and bromine in the crust may have surrendered some of their neutrons to xenon and krypton respectively, producing what are known as xenon-124 and 126 and krypton-80 and 82.
 

 Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/JPL-Caltech

The impacts from space rocks may have helped release these gasses into the atmosphere, and over time, even the cracks in the red planet’s surface may have allowed them to escape the crust.
"SAM's measurements provide evidence of a really interesting process in which the rock and unconsolidated material at the planet's surface have contributed to the xenon and krypton isotopic composition of the atmosphere in a dynamic way," Conrad continued.

It's worth noting that the Mars 2020 rover is still under development and will, in coming years, become the latest edition of red planet-roving robots to study the planet, furthering our knowledge of its composition and the possibility that it may be able to support life. Equipped with the latest technology, it may even provide more clues into this study.

Source: NASA

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
JUN 11, 2018
Space & Astronomy
JUN 11, 2018
Are Nanodiamonds to Blame for Anomalous Microwave Emissions?
Astronomers are always attempting to answer the seemingly endless stream of questions that arise from studying outer space. One of the most crucial questio...
JUN 20, 2018
Space & Astronomy
JUN 20, 2018
New Report Outlines How NASA Will Prepare for Potential Near-Earth Object Collisions
NASA juggles a bevy of space-related responsibilities, such as exploring the solar system and studying the most distant reaches of the universe, but one of...
JUL 15, 2018
Videos
JUL 15, 2018
Meet the Rare Binary Asteroid Recently Confirmed by NASA
Astronomers first became aware of an asteroid called YE5 in December of 2017, but something seemed odd about it after they were unable to discern its physi...
AUG 15, 2018
Space & Astronomy
AUG 15, 2018
This Hot Exoplanet's Atmosphere Contains Gaseous Atomic Iron and Titanium
Exoplanetary research is a hot commodity among astronomers. Not only can it teach us more about planetary formation and the birth of our solar system, but...
AUG 29, 2018
Space & Astronomy
AUG 29, 2018
New Horizons Spacecraft Photographs its Next Flyby Target
Immediately following New Horizons’ historic Pluto fly-by in 2015, NASA began planning the spacecraft’s next fly-by mission. The space agency u...
SEP 05, 2018
Space & Astronomy
SEP 05, 2018
Saturn's Atmospheric Hexagon May Tower Higher Than Initially Thought
Although NASA’s Cassini mission ended almost one full year ago, researchers continue to analyze the stream of data the spacecraft beamed back to us b...
Loading Comments...