Scientists have documented a solar storm blasting away the atmosphere of Mars.
It is an important clue in a long-standing mystery of how a planet that was once like Earth turned into a cold, dry desert, Reuters reported, citing research published on Thursday.
Unlike Earth, Mars does not have a global magnetic field to protect its atmosphere, leaving it vulnerable to solar ultraviolet radiation and high-energy blasts of gas and magnetic particles that stream from the sun during solar storms.
On March 8, NASA’s Mars-orbiting MAVEN spacecraft caught such a storm stripping away the planet’s atmosphere, a report published in this week’s issue of the journal Science says.
The “interplanetary coronal mass ejection” caused dramatic spikes in the number of oxygen and carbon dioxide ions spewing into space.
The March storm was the largest of about half a dozen similar events that MAVEN (the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission) has studied since arriving at the planet in September last year.
The goal of the mission is to study what types of radiation are coming from the sun and cosmic sources and the impact on gases in the planet’s upper atmosphere.
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