Can Martian atmosphere models teach us more about the Red Planet than surface models?

NASA is working hard to return surface samples from Mars over the next few years, which they hope will help them better understand whether ancient life existed on the Red Planet’s surface billions of years ago. But what about atmospheric models? Could these provide scientists with better information regarding the history of Mars? This is A A recent study Presented in 55Th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference An international team of researchers has explored the importance of returning atmospheric samples from Mars and what these can teach us about the formation and evolution of the Red Planet.

Here, Universe Today Discussing this research with the lead author of the study, Dr. Edward YoungProfessor and co-author of the study in the Department of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences at UCLA, Dr. Timothy Swindle, a professor at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, discusses the motivation behind the study, how atmospheric samples will be obtained, current or proposed missions, follow-up studies, and do they think life ever existed? Red planet. So, what is the motivation for studying?

Dr. Young says Universe Today, “We learn a lot about the origin of a planet from its atmosphere and its rocks. In particular, the isotope ratios of certain elements may control the processes leading to planet formation.

Credit: European Space Agency

Dr. Swindle follows this up by saying, “There are two basic types of motivation. For one thing, we plan to bring all these rock samples and we’re interested in how they interact with the atmosphere, but we can’t figure that out without knowing the composition of the atmosphere in detail. . Therefore, atmospheric modeling is needed to determine what elements and isotopes the rocks may be exchanging with. But we want to get a model of the Martian atmosphere to answer some basic questions about processes that have occurred or are occurring on Mars. For example, Martian meteorites contain atmospheric noble gases such as krypton and xenon. But those meteorites appear to have at least two different „atmospheric” components.

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For the study, the researchers proposed several benefits of returning a sample of the Martian atmosphere to Earth, including the presence of atmospheric samples in NASA’s Perseverance (Percy) rover sample tubes, insight into a possible solar car in the Martian interior, evolutionary trends in atmospheric compositions, nitrogen cycling, and sources of methane on Mars. Also known as the Percy Atmospheric Model Model No.1 „Rupion”, the study notes how the sample was obtained after Percy attempted to collect a rock core sample, but managed to collect atmospheric gases instead. In addition, the study proposes the absence of leakage while waiting for the sampling tube to return to Earth and the gases present in the sample are suitable for analysis upon return to Earth. But other than the Percy rover sample, how else can we get a sample of the Martian atmosphere?

„At least two ideas have been suggested for collecting a sample of the Martian atmosphere,” said Dr. Swindle says. Universe Today. „One is to fly a spacecraft through the Martian atmosphere, collect a sample as it goes, and then return it to Earth. The other is to have a sample return „canister” (which doesn’t have to be much bigger than a persistence tube) with valves and a (Mars) air compressor. .you can land it on the surface of Mars, open the valve to the atmosphere, turn on the compressor, and get a sample with hundreds or thousands of times the Martian atmosphere. Done, I hope to do it again.

Both Dr. Swindle and Dr. Young mention Sample Collection for the Exploration of Mars (SCIM) It was proposed by NASA and a team of academic researchers in 2002 with the goal of collecting atmospheric samples 40 kilometers (25 mi) above the surface of Mars and sending them back to Earth for analysis. When SCIM existed Selected as a semi-finalist For the 2007 Mars Scout program, it was unfortunately not selected for further development, and both Dr. Young and Dr. Swindle say Universe Today No atmospheric sampling missions are currently planned except for the Percy rover model. So, what follow-up studies from this research are currently underway or planned?

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Dr. Both Swindle and Dr. Young describe how efforts to collect small amounts of atmospheric gas are being made because of the small size of sampling tubes. Universe Today, “A big set of questions now is how good it would be to have a sealed persistence tube atmospheric model. How good is the seal? Does a hard landing cause a leak in the pipe? Could some molecules in the Martian atmosphere stick to the tubes’ coatings? All of these questions have some function, and so far, the answers have all been good – even though those persistence tubes weren’t really designed with atmospheric modeling in mind, they seem like they might work well.

As mentioned, the purpose of obtaining and returning an atmospheric sample from Mars will help scientists better understand the formation and evolution of the Red Planet. Although present-day Mars is a very cold and dry world with an atmosphere that is only a fraction of Earth’s, liquid water cannot exist on the surface, and there are no active volcanoes. However, significant evidence from landers, rovers and orbiters over the past several decades points to a different Mars billions of years after it first formed. An active interior that creates a magnetic field that protects the surface from harmful solar and cosmic radiation, a very dense atmosphere filled from active volcanoes, and flowing liquid water all led to the existence of some form of life. surface.

However, the small size of Mars (half that of Earth) means that its internal heat has cooled very rapidly (perhaps in millions of years), resulting in volcanic activity and the decay of the magnetic field, which has driven internal activity, the latter of which has led to the removal of harmful solar and cosmic radiation from the atmosphere, the surface. Liquid water evaporates into space with it. So, do Dr. Young and Dr. Swindle believe there was life on Mars, and will we ever find it?

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Dr. Young says Universe Today, “I really don’t know. I think microbial life in the past or even now is a reasonable hypothesis, but we don’t have enough information.

Dr. Swindle echoes the uncertainty about whether life ever existed on Mars, but explains that Universe Today, “If not, why did life begin so early on Earth, but not on Mars, which had a similar climate at that time? If so, how similar is it to life on Earth? Since Earth and Mars are always exchanging rocks due to impacts, is life on Earth related to life on Mars? If it was, it would be hard to find. But an atmospheric model might help. For example, the Martian atmosphere appears to contain methane. Most, but not all, of the methane in Earth’s atmosphere is biological, and analyzing the relative ratios of isotopes of carbon or hydrogen is one of the best ways to find it.

When will we get an atmospheric model of Mars, and what will it teach us about the formation and evolution of the Red Planet in the coming years and decades? Only time will tell, this is what science is all about!

As always, keep doing the science & look up!

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