Scientists at the US space agency NASA have finally detected oxygen molecules in the Martian atmosphere after nearly four-decade long research. NASA scientists used Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) attached to a plane orbiting earth 13.7 kilometers above the surface.
While taking the measurements, researchers tracked traces of oxygen molecules in the upper atmosphere of the Mars, also known as the mesosphere. The breakthrough is very important for the scientists as it will help them in unraveling the mystery of drastic change in the composition of gasses on the Red Planet. It will tell scientists why gases escaped from the Mars and which forces led to such revolutionary changes.
Scientists revealed that they found half the amount of oxygen than expected. However, it may be due to atmospheric variation, few other readings will give a better idea of the exact composition.
It was back in 1970s, when missions like Viking and Mariner detected atomic oxygen in the Martian atmosphere. Oxygen atoms at Mars are already difficult to detect and the presence of Earth’s blue skies added to the situation and made it very difficult for the researchers to trace oxygen on Mars.
“Atomic oxygen in the Martian atmosphere is notoriously difficult to measure,” said SOFIA project scientist, Pamela Marcum. “To observe the far-infrared wavelengths needed to detect atomic oxygen, researchers must be above the majority of Earth’s atmosphere and use highly sensitive instruments, in this case, a spectrometer. SOFIA provides both capabilities.”
Scientists further explained that SOFIA has a major role to play in the discovery. SOFIA is a giant aeroplane (a Boeing 747SP jetliner) orbiting Earth nearly 45,000 feet above the surface. It boasts a large telescope with a lens measuring 254-cm (100 inch) in diameter. It provides very high precision data which helps NASA scientists in making very precise calculations.
SOFIA is equipped with highly sensitive equipment to measure composition of Martian atmosphere with very high precision while ignoring the Earth’s own atmospheric components.
NASA hasn’t yet revealed the exact amount of oxygen discovered on the Mars, however, it was revealed that the amount is less than expected. People can expect results in few weeks.