Dominating space and discovering everything it holds is still one of man’s greatest desires. This makes us take risks in the name of knowledge. After all, who wouldn’t want to travel through the immensity of the universe?! People have been fascinated with the fourth planet in the Solar System ever since they discovered it.
Mars , after ours, is the most popular, and for several reasons. Some people theorize that there is life on the huge red planet. Others say that the extraterrestrials we see in so many stories started from there. Scientists see it with different eyes and are studying the possibility of inhabiting it. Mars has always been a great source of mysteries.
Billions of years ago, the Red Planet was home to lakes and oceans. And where all that water went, to make way for the rock planet that is known today, is still a mystery.
It was thought that most of that water could have been lost to space. However, a new study, funded by NASA, has proposed that it actually went nowhere and that it is inside minerals in the planet’s crust.
“We’re saying that the crust forms what we call hydrated minerals, that is, minerals that actually have water in their crystalline structure,” said Eva Scheller, lead author of the new article.
Scheller’s model suggests that between 30 and 99% of the original water on Mars is trapped within these minerals. It is believed that the planet had enough water to cover the entire planet in about 100 to 1,500 meters of ocean.
And as early in Mars’ history it lost its magnetic field, the atmosphere was progressively stripped away. It is believed that this is how he lost water. However, the authors of the new study believe that as much as some of the water disappeared, most still remained.
Through observations made by rovers and meteorites from Mars , the researchers focused on hydrogen, which is a key component of water.
There are several types of hydrogen atoms. And most have only one proton at their core. But a small fraction, about 0.02%, has a proton and a neutron. This makes them heavier. They are known as deuterium, or heavy hydrogen.
And since this lighter type escapes the planet’s atmosphere at a faster rate, the loss of water to space would leave relatively more deuterium behind.
However, given the amount of water that Mars is believed to have started and the actual rate of hydrogen escape seen by the spacecraft, the ratio of deuterium to hydrogen cannot be explained solely by atmospheric loss.
Because of this, the authors claim that there is a combination of two mechanisms. These are: the imprisonment of water in minerals in the crust of Mars and the loss of water to the atmosphere.
“Whenever you have a rock and it’s interacting with water, there’s a series of very complex reactions that form a hydrated mineral,” Scheller said.
The process is called chemical weathering and it also happens on Earth in clay, for example. However, on Earth, volcanoes recycle water back into the atmosphere. On Mars, on the other hand, there are no tectonic plates, which makes the changes permanent.
According to simulations the team ran, Mars lost most of its water between four and 3.7 billion years ago. This means that “Mars was very similar to what we see today for the last three billion years,” Scheller said.