Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Ancient Eruption Signals a Wet Mars

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Ancient Eruption Signals a Wet Mars

Article excerpt

Mars's atmosphere is less than 1% the density of Earth's, which is one reason why water can't exist on the Red Planet. But research suggests Mars may have had water in its past, so scientists have increased their studies on the density of its atmosphere billions of years ago.

To that end, Georgia Tech Assistant Professor Josef Dufek is analyzing ancient volcanic eruptions on Mars as well as surface observations made by the Mars rover Spirit. His new findings, published by the journal Geophysical Research Letters, provide more evidence that Mars was once wet and its atmosphere considerably thicker, at least 20 times more dense than it is today.

"Atmospheric pressure has likely played a role in developing almost all Mars's surface features," Dufek said. "The planet's climate, the physical state of water on its surface and the potential for life are all influenced by atmospheric conditions."

Dufek's first research tool was a rock fragment propelled into the Martian atmosphere during a volcanic eruption roughly 3.5 billion years ago. The deposit landed in the volcanic sediment, created a divot (or "bomb sag"), eventually solidified and remains in place today. Dufek's next tool was the Mars rover. In 2007, Spirit landed at that site, known as Home Plate, and took a closer look at the imbedded fragment. Dufek and his collaborators at the University of California--Berkeley received enough data to determine the size, depth, and shape of the bomb sag. …

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