Ever wonder how Mars became the red planet we know and love today? We know that there’s liquid water and ice on Mars, and we also know that it was once home to large bodies of water, but we don’t exactly know how it got so dry. Well, new data from NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) mission has provided scientists with a better idea of just how Mars came to be the planet we grew up with.
MAVEN orbited Mars for a touch over a year and was collecting valuable information all the while. What it found was evidence of atmospheric erosion via solar winds. See, solar winds are composed of a mass of speeding protons and electrons that travel at an astounding 1 million miles per hour. The particle charge up atoms in Mars’ atmosphere and are subsequently shot out into space. NASA says this ejection causes Mars to lose roughly 100 grams of atmospheric gasses per second.
— NASA (@NASA) November 5, 2015
“Like the theft of a few coins from a cash register every day, the loss becomes significant over time,” said professor Bruce Jakosky, who worked on the MAVEN project. Oh, and don’t think for one second that these solar winds called it a day after they tore apart Mars’ atmosphere. Most of the damage was done hundreds of billions of years ago when solar winds and the sun were much stronger, but they continue to eat away at the Martian atmosphere.
The scary part about this is that Earth could very well suffer the same fate… in theory. Scientists say that it’s highly improbable, so don’t worry too much. What gives Earth the protective edge that Mars lacked is a strong magnetic field. That’s what shields us from those pesky solar winds. We’d have to lose our magnetic field to suffer the same fate as Mars, and it’s very unlikely that we’d experience that.