Solar Wind Strips the Martian Atmosphere
Scientists have long suspected the solar wind of stripping the Martian upper atmosphere into space, turning Mars from a blue world to a red one. Now, NASA's MAVEN orbiter is observing this process in action, providing significant data on solar wind erosion at Mars.
Watch this video on the NASA Goddard YouTube channel.
Complete transcript available.
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Today, Mars is a global desert with an atmosphere far too thin to support bodies of flowing water, but evidence shows that Mars was considerably wetter in the ancient past. Scientists think that climate change on Mars was caused by the loss of an early, thick atmosphere, and NASA’s MAVEN mission is investigating whether it was driven into space.
One of the prime suspects is the solar wind, a stream of electrically charged particles continuously blowing outward from the Sun. Unlike Earth, Mars lacks a global magnetic field to deflect the incoming solar wind. Instead, charged particles from the Sun crash into the Mars upper atmosphere, and can accelerate Martian ions into space. Now, MAVEN has observed this process in action – by measuring the velocity of ions escaping from Mars.
The movies on this page compare simulations of ion escape with MAVEN’s observations of oxygen ion flux. The results closely fit the expected pattern, with the most energetic ions (in red) accelerated in a plume above Mars, while the majority of escaping ions (green) are lost along the “tail” region in the wake of the solar wind. MAVEN’s observations confirm that the solar wind is a significant contributor to atmosphere loss on Mars, and they bring scientists closer to solving the mystery of the ancient Martian climate. Read the full press release about this finding.
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NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio and the MAVEN Science Team
MissionsThis visualization is related to the following missions:
Datasets used in this visualization
MGSID: 58Collected with MOC
BATS-R-US Magnetosphere ModelID: 686Model Community Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC)
MHD Magnetospheric simulationSee all pages that use this dataset
MAVEN Ion FluxID: 895Observed Data Collected with STATIC LASP: University of Colorado Boulder
Mars Monte Carlo Pickup Ion Transport (MCPIT) ModelID: 896Model LASP
Note: While we identify the data sets used in these visualizations, we do not store any further details, nor the data sets themselves on our site.