Billions of years ago, geological evidence suggests that the cold, dry Red Planet used to be much bluer. There was enough water collected from pools, lakes, and deep oceans to have covered the entire planet in an ocean roughly 100 to 1,500 meters (330 to 4,920 feet) deep. That’s roughly equivalent to half of the Earth’s Atlantic Ocean.
The question is: what exactly happened to all that water?
While some frozen water can be found in the Martian ice caps, Scientists had previously suggested that flowing water on Mars escaped into space due to the planet’s low gravity.. And although some water came out of Mars this way, a new NASA-backed study claims that a large amount of its water is still on the planet, trapped in its crust.
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“Atmospheric leakage does not fully explain the data we have on how much water actually existed once on Mars,” said Eva Scheller, lead author of the paper that was published in the journal Science.
How the researchers estimated water in Mars
Scheller and his colleagues used data from Mars rovers and orbiters, as well as analyzed meteorites to study the amount of water on the Red Planet. at the beginning and how much he lost over time.
One way to do this is by analyzing the levels of hydrogen within the planet’s atmosphere and rocks. Water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen, but not all hydrogen atoms are the same. Most of them have a single proton inside the nucleus of the atom, while the so-called “heavy” hydrogen has an additional neutron.
Regular hydrogen has little trouble escaping a planet’s gravity than heavier deuterium. The ratio of deuterium to hydrogen (D / H) in the planet’s atmosphere therefore reflects the loss of Martian water.
“Atmospheric leakage clearly played a role in the loss of water, but findings from the last decade from missions to Mars have pointed to the fact that there was this huge reserve of ancient hydrated minerals whose formation certainly decreased the availability of water with the time, “explains Bethany Ehlmann, professor of planetary science and associate director of the Keck Institute for Space Studies.
When water and rock come together, a process called chemical weathering can occur that forms clays and other hydrated minerals that contain water. as part of its mineral structure.
And while Mars still has between 30% and 99% of its water trapped in the crust, Scheller cautions that it won’t be easy for future astronauts to easily extract water for use.