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 "Intrepid" crater by the Opportunity Mars Rover on November 11, 2010. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University)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 "Intrepid" crater by the Opportunity Mars Rover on November 11, 2010. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University)
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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid