Mystery of Mars strange fluctuations in oxygen levels

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(ORDO NEWS) — By studying the results of the analysis of atmospheric gases, astronomers were able to explain the mysterious fluctuations in oxygen levels in the atmosphere of the Red Planet. Today we will talk about how things are with oxygen on Mars.

The composition of the Martian atmosphere is a source of constant surprises for astronomers. First – the mysterious movement of methane, which then disappears, then reappears.

There is not much oxygen on Mars. 95% of its atmosphere is carbon dioxide, and the rest is 2.6% molecular nitrogen (N2), 1.9% argon (Ar), 0.16% molecular oxygen (O2) and 0.06% carbon monoxide (CO).

How to saturate the atmosphere of Mars with oxygen?

In 2021, the Perseverance rover was able to extract oxygen from the red planet’s atmosphere for the first time. The robot was equipped with seven scientific devices before being sent.

The most interesting for us in today’s topic is the MOXIE device. It is a whole system aimed at processing local resources into oxygen. MOXIE creates oxygen on Mars like trees by “breathing in” carbon dioxide.

Let’s understand how MOXIE works to create oxygen on Mars. The device draws in the “air” of the red planet with a pump, then, using an electrochemical process, separates one oxygen atom from each carbon dioxide molecule.

To successfully complete this operation, high temperatures are needed – about 800 ° C. As the gases pass through the system, the apparatus analyzes how much oxygen is produced and how much. After each test, all gases are vented back into the Martian atmosphere.

mystery of Mars strange fluctuations in oxygen levels 2On its first pass, MOXIE produced a rather modest mass of oxygen on Mars—about 5 grams, enough for 10 minutes of breathing for one person

Oxygen fluctuations on Mars

Recently, researchers have detected a series of rises and falls in the level of oxygen on Mars over Gale Crater in amounts that simply cannot be explained by any of the chemical processes known to us.

Data about this came to Earth in 2020 thanks to the Curiosity rover, which methodically explored the crater at the foot of Mount Sharp.

The robot took samples not only of the soil, but also of atmospheric gases, analyzing them using the built-in laboratory. Tracking the results of his work, scientists could not help but notice that something strange was happening with oxygen on the planet.

Atmospheric pressure on the red planet changes throughout the year because CO2 freezes in the winter hemisphere and the balance of gases shifts to equalize the air pressure on Mars. In the spring, when the polar caps melt, the reverse process occurs.

Thus, fluctuations in atmospheric gases can be easily predicted. In this case, they all behaved as expected, and only oxygen showed anomalous activity.

The fact is that in spring and summer, the level of oxygen rises by about 30%, and in the fall it returns to normal. From year to year, the amount of oxygen is growing, and astronomers can not understand what it is connected with.

The first version, related to interference in the rover equipment, is rejected by astronomers – a series of tests showed that everything is working fine.

Another possibility is the decay of water and carbon dioxide, but this is also not true: water is very scarce in the Martian atmosphere, and CO2 decays too slowly to match the observed fluctuations.

By the way, the mysterious disappearances of methane may be the key to unraveling the mystery. Researchers do not rule out that the factor that causes methane fluctuations also affects oxygen on Mars. True, science does not know of any chemical process that could explain such shifts.

What is it – the result of the vital activity of some organic mass unknown to us? Geological activity? Something that lurks in the depths of the planet? We can only guess while scientists build theories and consistently test them with the help of probes and rovers.


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