A team led by scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has estimated that…
A team led by scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has estimated that if liquid water is present on Mars, the planet may contain more oxygen than previously thought.
According to the model, published in Nature GeoScience the levels can also theoretically exceed the threshold needed to support a simple aerobic life.
The theory goes against what was previously thought of Mars as the presence of liquid waters on the red planet is not a given. Although there were scientists long ago dismissed the idea that it could be oxygenated, given that the Mars atmosphere is about 160 times thinner than the Earth’s and mostly carbon dioxide.
“Acid is an important ingredient in determining housing ability, but it’s relatively barely on Mars,” said Woody Fischer, Professor of Geobiology at Caltech, and co-author of the results.
“Nobody ever thought that the concentrations of dissolved oxygen needed for aerobic breathing could theoretically exist on Mars,” adds JPL’s Vlada Stamenković, leading author of the newspaper.
Over the last few months, data from a European spacecraft have suggested that floating water may be under an ice sheet at Mars south pole. It has also been assumed that water can exist in salty areas, as perchlorate salts have been detected in different places on Mars.
This is because salt lowers the freezing point of water, which means that water with perchlorate in it may remain floating despite the freezing temperatures of Mars, where summer nights on the equator can still dive down to -1
00 degrees Fahrenheit.
The hypothetical saltwater is what interested Fischer and Stamenković. Acid enters the water from the atmosphere and diffuses into the fluid to maintain equilibrium between the water and the air. If saltwater was close enough to the surface of the earth, it could effectively absorb oxygen from the thin atmosphere.
To find out how much oxygen can be absorbed, scientists developed a chemical model describing how acid dissolves in salt water at temperatures below the freezing point of water. Since March, they examined global climate and how it has changed over the last 20 million years, during which time the tilt of the planet’s axis shifted and changed regional climate.
Solubility and climate models together gave researchers the ability to determine which areas on Mars are most capable of maintaining high oxygen levels, both today and in the geologically recent past of the planet.
The team found that at low levels and at low temperatures an unexpectedly high amount of oxygen can exist in the water – a value of several orders of magnitude above the threshold required for aerobic breathing in the Earth’s oceans today.
They also found that the location of these regions has shifted since the Mars axis slope has changed over the last 20 million years. During that time, the highest oxygenolubilities have occurred over the last five million years.
The find was able to inform future missions to Mars by giving better targets to robbers who were looking for signs of past or present habitable environments, Stamenković added.
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