A newly proposed theory to explain planetary water loss may also give insight into why Mars became the barren planet it is today. Using over a decade of data captured by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the team was able to study how the planet has changed over time.
During a massive Martian dust storm that stretched from 2006 to 2007, the team found that signs of water vapor were found at altitudes of almost 80 kilometers. Dubbed as “rocket dust storms”, these storms featured extremely rapid vertical movement which managed to carry dust particulate high into the atmosphere. At altitudes higher than 50 kilometers, ultraviolet light from the sun is able to penetrate Mars’ atmosphere, which breaks down water’s chemical bonds between hydrogen and oxygen. It’s theorized that this results in the hydrogen drifting into space, while the dust and some of the now bondless oxygen eventually settle back to the surface.
Past studies have suggested that Mars was once covered in an ocean that reached depths of up to 100 meters (328 feet). Though it’s been known that the majority of this water was lost due to the escape of hydrogen, no method for this escape had been previously identified.
Though these storms currently account for 10 percent of all of Mars’ hydrogen loss, it’s not quite sure how these storms would affect ancient Mars. With a global supply of water and a thicker atmosphere, it’s possible these storms wouldn’t be as ferocious. But, today, it’s certain these storms are stripping Mars of what little water it has left.
Source: Nature Astronomy