New device unveils more mysteries about Maritan atmosphere

October 15th, 2010 - 5:09 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Oct 15 (ANI): New instruments designed to measure atmospheric components on the surface of Mars have uncovered important clues about the planet’s atmosphere and climate history.

The findings revealed how carbon dioxide isotopes have reacted to volcanic activity, water and weathering-thus forming a more complete picture of the current Martian atmosphere.

UT Dallas Physics Professor John Hoffman, a member of the William B. Hanson Centre for Space Sciences, designed the mass spectrometer through which soil samples collected at the surface of Mars were analyzed.

The NASA mission in which this work was accomplished was the Phoenix Lander, an unmanned spacecraft deployed to Mars in 2008.

Samples of atmospheric gasses were drawn into the instrument during several Martian days, called “sols,” and analyzed to determine the type of gases that comprise the atmosphere.

“The dominant gas is carbon dioxide. We examined these carbon dioxide molecules and measured the ratio of the light to heavy atoms of carbon and oxygen,” said Hoffman.

Different mass atoms of an element are called isotopes. By contrasting these isotopes, Hoffman and other researchers could see how geologic processes on Mars affected the gases.

Previous samples from the Martian atmosphere were analyzed three decades ago during NASA’s Viking program.

“The accuracy of the current measurements far surpasses the previous information we had.

“Obviously, these geologic and atmospheric changes are slow processes, but we now have a better idea of the earlier planetary atmosphere,” said Hoffman.

The findings were published in the journal Science. (ANI)

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