It is simple human nature to want more than you have. This is why when man first set foot on the moon, many already had extended their gaze toward Mars. The lonely red planet, Mars, has been the center of attention for many individuals interested in space travel and has been featured in both science fiction and science fact. For years, it was thought that Mars would be the best option for man to set up a more permanent space colony. Though NASA has yet to send a manned mission to the planet, it still holds a lot of interest today due to evidence of water once flowing on the surface. With recent missions, scientists may have an even better idea of what might have changed.
Today, the Martian atmosphere is composed approximately of 96% carbon dioxide, 1.9% argon, 1.9% nitrogen, and traces of other gases, including oxygen. With a pressure of only 0.6% of Earth’s average (600 pascals), there is very little there to study. Despite this pitiful condition today, many believe that the atmosphere was once more substantial.
Since NASA has discovered evidence of water on the surface of Mars, they have made some assumptions as to what the atmosphere would have looked like in the past. Many expected it to be quite substantial, thick enough to keep in heat and allow for a warm and wet environment. If this were the case, they would be able to trace it back by finding large carbonate deposits on the surface. These deposits would result from the carbon in the atmosphere settling on the planet, thus leading to its current levels. Recent information shows something different.
Though they have recently discovered their largest carbonate mineral deposit on the surface, NASA now believes that their earlier predictions were off. Instead, the levels found on the surface suggest that the atmosphere never reached any substantial levels. In this way, the planet probably rarely or never experienced rainfall, but did likely have its share of snowfall. Rather than a thick atmosphere more similar to Earth’s, the plant likely had a thin atmosphere that was just dense enough to keep in heat for ice to become water.
For those who are looking at the bigger picture of space exploration, the reality is that this doesn’t have any immediate effect on the future outlook for Mars. Looking back at the past may give a better idea of how water existed and what conditions are like, but those who are hoping to see man really stretching his space legs will find that this discovery doesn’t offer anything new. Despite this, information like this is always valuable to the scientific community and could lead to a better understanding of how planets evolve, giving a clearer game plan for future space ventures.