(ORDO NEWS) — Mars may have once been a blue and water-covered planet. Mars’ early atmosphere was denser and richer in hydrogen than its current carbon dioxide-laden thin gaseous envelope, according to a new study published by a team of scientists at Arizona State University led by planetary scientist Kave Pahlevan.
To determine the composition of the ancient Martian atmosphere, the team of researchers developed atmospheric evolution models that start with the high temperatures associated with the early molten state of Mars and end with the formation of the first oceans and atmosphere.
The models showed that the main gases escaping from the early magma ocean were a mixture of molecular hydrogen and water vapor.
Hydrogen is the lightest element in the universe, but in a dense atmosphere it acts as a powerful greenhouse gas. Pahlavan’s team’s calculations show that there was enough hydrogen in Mars’ early atmosphere to keep warm oceans stable on the planet’s surface for millions of years.
The researchers’ models suggest that, as on the modern Earth , water vapor in the Martian atmosphere condensed in the lower atmosphere, forming clouds, and providing the existence of a “drier” upper atmosphere.
Molecular hydrogen did not condense and was the main component of the upper layers of the Martian atmosphere, where it gradually escaped into space.
This information is consistent with data obtained by the NASA Curiosity rover during the analysis of clays about three billion years old.
These clays have a hydrogen isotope ratio (the ratio between deuterium and hydrogen) three times that of Earth’s modern oceans.
This means that the surface water of Mars, which reacted with the rocks to form these clays, was rich in deuterium, and the only way to achieve this enrichment is to “give” light gas (hydrogen) into space.
These results were not explained by any model prior to the study by Kave Pahlevan’s team. If early Mars really had a hydrogen-rich atmosphere and a surface covered with water, then for some time the planet could have had enough comfortable conditions for the origin of life.
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