For the first time in the history of space exploration, scientists have measured seasonal changes in the gases that fill the atmosphere just above the surface of Gale crater on Mars. As a result, they noticed something very interesting: oxygen, the gas breathed by many creatures of the earth, they “behave” very strange. In particular, increased its concentration in the atmosphere of the planet.
Where on Mars the oxygen?
For three Martian years (almost six earth years) the instrument for analysis of the surrounding gas, built-in , the Mars Curiosity Rover, has passed through all the surrounding gases in the vicinity of Gale crater and analyzed its composition. The results confirmed previous evidence that the composition of the Martian atmosphere by volume is 95% of carbon dioxide (CO2), 2.6% of molecular nitrogen (N2), 1,9% are argon (Ar) and of 0.16% and 0.06% for molecular oxygen (O2) and carbon monoxide (CO), respectively. The rest of tenths and hundredths of a percent is distributed among the other gases that are present in very small concentrations.
The study also showed how the molecules of Martian air are mixed and circulate in the atmosphere of the planet during the year. But then I started wondering: analyzer of atmospheric composition showed that the concentration of oxygen increases by 30% in the spring, is maintained at this level until the autumn, and then returns to normal values. The same strange process occurs with methane — its normal concentration in the Gale crater is 0,00000004% of the total, and during the summer months it increases sharply to 60%.
It has been suggested that these changes are related to the fact that CO2 freezes in the winter over the poles, thereby reducing the pressure on the planet. After this redistribution of gases in the atmosphere to maintain equilibrium. That is, with the drop in the level of CO2 percentage of the gas is changing, but their volume remains the same. And when CO2 thaws, the process is reversed.
Indeed, scientists have discovered that nitrogen and argon follow this seasonal scheme, increasing and decreasing its interest focus as to how much CO2 is around at the moment. The researchers expected that the oxygen would do the same. But instead, the amount of gas in the air increased during spring and summer by as much as 30%, and then dropped to initial levels. This pattern was repeated every spring, as if something made him, and then took away. How do you think it could be? Voice your opinion in our chat in Telegram.
The first time we saw it, it was just overwhelming, said Melissa Trainer, a planetary scientist from space flight Center of NASA. We are struggling to explain this phenomenon. The fact that the behavior of oxygen completely repeats itself every season, makes us think that it is not only in atmospheric dynamics. Must be some kind of chemical or biological source.
As soon as scientists discovered “the oxygen conundrum”, they immediately started to work, trying to explain it. First, the researchers triple-checked the accuracy of the instrument to measure gases. The instrument was in order. The experts then considered the possibility that molecules of CO2, or can release oxygen when they broke up in the atmosphere, which would lead to a short-term increase in the level of this gas. But for the production of additional oxygen would require a lot of water and CO2 decays too slowly to generate oxygen in such a short time.
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Scientists came to the conclusion that oxygen can be obtained as the biological (with the help of microbes, for example) and by abiotic (chemical elements that make up the breed of Gale crater). At the moment experts consider both options, although they have no conclusive evidence of biological activity on Mars. Just for Curiosity is not installed instrumentation that could accurately detect the presence of organic matter. Now scientists are inclined to believe that non-biological explanations are more probable, but the final conclusion is still far. So it is quite possible that this story will be continued. And, who knows, maybe we’ll find it life on Mars.