Scientists say thinning atmosphere drove the drying and cooling of Mars

Artist’s concept of a solar storm hitting Mars and stripping ions from the upper atmosphere. Credit: NASA/GSFC

Data collected by NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft in its first two years at Mars confirm suspicions that the solar wind is blasting away the planet’s atmosphere and helped transform the world from a warmer, wetter and potentially habitable world into the barren landscape seen today, scientists said.

The robotic orbiter has been looping around Mars since September 2014, skimming just above the Martian atmosphere at the low point of its elongated orbit and searching for particles streaming away from the planet.

As Mars is bombarded by the solar wind, a stream of solar particles that flow out through the solar system at a million miles per hour, the red planet’s atmosphere is buffeted and eroded, chipping away bit by bit, according to Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN’s principal investigator at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Researchers examining data from MAVEN’s instruments have identified multiple processes by which Mars loses parts of its atmosphere.

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