MAVEN: High-altitude water gives atmospheric escape route for Mars hydrogen

Mars-escapeResearchers at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics have discovered an atmospheric escape route for hydrogen on Mars, a mechanism that may have played a significant role in the planet’s loss of liquid water.

The findings describe a process in which water molecules rise to the middle layers of the planet’s atmosphere during warmer seasons of the year and then break apart, triggering a large increase in the rate of hydrogen escape from the atmosphere to space in a span of just weeks.

The new study, which appears today in the journal Nature Geoscience, cuts against traditional models that have historically considered Martian hydrogen escape to be slower and more constant.

“Going back to the 1970s, the conventional picture of Martian hydrogen loss has been one of slow, steady escape over long time scales,” said Mike Chaffin, a research associate at LASP and lead author of the new study. “With this work, we find that there are ways to produce much more seasonal variation than previously thought.” [More at link; an earlier report related to this finding appeared here]

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