News / Science & Technology

Mars Once Had Oxygen-Rich Atmosphere

New research indicates Mars had an oxygen-rich atmosphere 4 billion years ago, but lost it due to a variety of factors.
New research indicates Mars had an oxygen-rich atmosphere 4 billion years ago, but lost it due to a variety of factors.
Rick Pantaleo
New research by scientists at Oxford University in England has revealed that Mars may have also had an oxygen-rich atmosphere about four billion years ago, nearly 1.5 billion years before Earth developed its atmospheric oxygen.

The scientists, led by Professor Bernard Wood, first studied the chemical composition of Martian meteorites that fell to Earth, which they say probably came from the deep interior of Mars.  They made a similar examination of rocks that were found on the surface of Mars with data provided by NASA's 'Spirit' rover.  After comparing the composition of both forms of Martian rock, they found that those from the surface came from a more oxygen-rich environment.

Wood described the Martian rocks from meteorites as geologically 'young', around 180 million to 1.4 billion years old, and those found and analyzed by the Spirit rover was from what was said to be very old part of Mars, more than 3.7 billion years old.
The principal difference in chemical composition between the meteorite and surface rocks that he and his team noticed was in the concentration of nickel.

Full interview with Oxford University Professor Bernard Wood about an Oxygen-Rich Atmosphere on Mars
Full interview with Oxford University Professor Bernard Wood about an Oxygen-Rich Atmosphere on Marsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

According to their analysis, the surface rocks had about five times as much nickel as the Martian meteorite, something they thought was puzzling, and made them wonder whether the meteorites are typical volcanic products of the red planet.

A meteorite from Mars called Northwest Africa (NWA) 1068 was found in the Moroccan Sahara in 2001.A meteorite from Mars called Northwest Africa (NWA) 1068 was found in the Moroccan Sahara in 2001.
x
A meteorite from Mars called Northwest Africa (NWA) 1068 was found in the Moroccan Sahara in 2001.
A meteorite from Mars called Northwest Africa (NWA) 1068 was found in the Moroccan Sahara in 2001.
“What we have shown is that both meteorites and surface volcanic rocks are consistent with similar origins in the deep interior of Mars, but that the surface rocks come from a more oxygen-rich environment, probably caused by recycling of oxygen-rich materials into the interior,” said Wood.

Here on Earth, the method in which oxidized material can get recycled into the interior is something called subduction, which Wood describes as the process where old crust is pushed back down into the interior of the planet.  The newly reintroduced oxidized material, he said, has an effect on the kind of material produced in the interior that is later brought back to the surface through volcanic activity.

The researchers believe that same processes took place on Mars during its early history, explaining why some Martian rock came from an oxygen rich environment while others did not.

Why is Mars the red planet?

Scientists say that the reddish hue of Mars surface is the result of oxidized iron – rust. This alone could show that the planet must have had oxygen available at least some time in its history.

So, where did the oxygen on come from?

Here on Earth, our oxygen was first produced as a result of the photosynthesis of early microbes.  But that’s not how Mars got its oxygen.

“It would be very interesting if one could assert that the same thing, that microbes were involved on Mars, but in fact, the principle origin of oxygen was probably from the breakdown of water into oxygen plus hydrogen,” said Wood.  “This happens in the atmosphere all the time, it’s happening on Earth right now; water is broken down into oxygen plus hydrogen and some hydrogen escapes from the Earth, leaving a small amount of remaining oxygen in the atmosphere.”  The breakdown of the water into its basic two elements is caused by the Sun’s radiation.

Wood thinks that this same process had to have happened on Mars as well, if there was water vapor in the Martian atmosphere.  He adds that the big difference is that on Mars, it’s easier for the hydrogen to escape, because of its weaker gravity.

“So, as long as there was water around on Mars, the water vapor in the atmosphere, there would be continuous production of oxygen due to the breakdown of water into oxygen plus hydrogen,” said Wood.

Losing oxygen

Unlike Earth though, Mars lost its atmospheric oxygen.  Wood says this was due to its reaction to the surface of planet.
 
A view of the surface of Mars taken at the A view of the surface of Mars taken at the "Intrepid" crater by the Opportunity Mars Rover on November 11, 2010. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University)
x
A view of the surface of Mars taken at the
A view of the surface of Mars taken at the "Intrepid" crater by the Opportunity Mars Rover on November 11, 2010. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University)
As mentioned earlier, Mars got its reddish hue due to the oxidation of iron contained in its rocks and soil. It was that oxidation process that eventually robbed Mars of its oxygen, according to Wood. Water that was present on the surface of early Mars also disappeared as a reaction with the rocks. “So, water is consumed, carbon dioxide is to some extent consumed and the oxygen is consumed by reaction between oceans and atmospheres and the rocks,” said Wood.
 
While the same processes are happening on Earth, the difference is that here there is continuous production of more water and carbon dioxide due to volcanic activity, so there is continuous replenishment of each.

Wood said that Mars didn’t have the same advantage of having these elements replenished.  Unlike Earth, Mars, a smaller planet, quickly became much colder.
 
As it cooled down the amount of volcanism reduced, its water and carbon dioxide were not replaced efficiently.
 
Eventually, the amount of water and CO2 being replaced by this process would have become very small, and so gradually all of the water and carbon dioxide would have been consumed.
 
This would have caused a thinning of Mars’ atmosphere, making its surface even colder, producing a negative greenhouse effect, making it impossible for the planet to retain any of the Sun’s heat.

The study that chronicled the research and findings by Wood’s research team was published recently in the journal, Nature.

You May Like

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
July 30, 2013 8:52 PM
Thank you for an interesting story. So, nickel composing rocks have something to do with oxygen concentration where the rocks are produced. It seems very useful way for determining the cource of production to compare the composition of meteorites from Mars to surface rocks on Mars.

By the way, I would like to know how to determin some meteorites found on the earth to originate from Mars?

by: gary from: united kingdom
July 30, 2013 6:37 PM
please google
mars gale crater is alive
and watch a stunning revalation about the red planet
also watch on the garyoptica channel the latest video called
The answer to the question is mankind alone in the universe HD
. Thank you.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs