New NASA study challenges beliefs about water on Mars

A new study from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and researchers from the California Institute of Technology questions whether a long-standing theory about Mars still has water.

In their research, the team of scientists postulated that a large amount of the Martian planet’s water had not escaped into space due to its low gravity as previously assumed, but was trapped in its crust.


While abundant water is known to have flown off the planet billions of years ago, the team said their findings revealed that between 30 and 99% of it had been trapped in minerals.

Their conclusions, published in the journal Science and presented at the 52nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, were reached using cross-mission data from the agency’s Planetary Data System (PDS).

The data belonged to meteorite lab work as well as NASA Mars Exploration Program missions, and the team focused on the amount of water on Mars over time and the chemical composition of the current atmosphere of the planet. planet.

In particular, they examined the deuterium to hydrogen (D / H) ratio, according to a press release Tuesday.

“Although water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen, not all hydrogen atoms are the same. The vast majority of hydrogen atoms have a single proton within the atomic nucleus, while a small fraction (about 0.02%) exists. like deuterium, or something like that. called ‘heavy’ hydrogen, which has a proton and a neutron. Lighter hydrogen escapes from the planet’s gravity into space much more easily than its denser counterpart, “the statement explained. “Because of this, the loss of water from a planet through the upper atmosphere would leave a telltale sign about the ratio of deuterium to hydrogen in the planet’s atmosphere: a large amount of deuterium would remain.”

But, they say, because the loss of water solely through the atmosphere cannot be representative as much of the “deuterium signal to hydrogen” in the atmosphere as of large amounts of water in the past, there are two mechanisms at play: they both catch the water. in the minerals of the planet’s crust and the loss of water to the atmosphere.


Also, because Mars does not have plate tectonics, it cannot recycle water into the atmosphere through volcanism as on Earth, making any “drying out” on the surface permanent.

“Hydrated materials on our own planet are continually recycled through plate tectonics,” said lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters, Michael Meyer. “Because we have measurements from various spacecraft, we can see that Mars is not being recycled, so the water is now locked up in the crust or lost to space.”

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has already found signs of water erosion in the rocks of Mars during its astrobiological search.

A key goal of the rover is to try to find signs of ancient microbial life during its mission by collecting and storing rocks and sediment.

Two of the lead authors of this study will assist in the effort to collect the samples that will be returned through the Mars Sample Return program in the early 2030s.


Meyer, who is part of the Mars Sample Return Program, told Fox News on Wednesday that they look forward to continued analysis of their “intriguing results.”

“The history of water on Mars and its relationship to the astrobiological search for habitability and life is one of the most important questions that we continue to study with our missions on the Red Planet,” he said. “This is ultimately why we hope to collect pristine samples of the Red Planet with the Mars Perseverance rover and bring them safely to Earth for scientific study through the Mars Sample Return campaign.”

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