Planets and Moons  ID: 4370

Solar Wind Strips the Martian Atmosphere

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.

Watch the November 2015 MAVEN Science Update.


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Visualization Credits

Greg Shirah (NASA/GSFC):
Lead Visualizer

Horace Mitchell (NASA/GSFC):

Ernie Wright (USRA):

Dan Gallagher (USRA):

Bruce Jakosky (LASP):

Xiaohua Fang (LASP):

Yaxue Dong (LASP):

Yingjuan Ma (UCLA):

Joy Ng (USRA):

Michael Lentz (USRA):

Brian Monroe (USRA):

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio and the MAVEN Science Team

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Mars Global Surveyor - MGS
MAVEN: Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN

Data Used:
BATS-R-US Magnetosphere Model
Model - Community Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC)
MHD Magnetospheric simulation
Observed Data - LASP: University of Colorado Boulder
Mars Monte Carlo Pickup Ion Transport (MCPIT) Model
Model - 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.

This item is part of these series:
Narrated Movies
MAVEN Science Videos

SVS >> Climate
SVS >> Mars
SVS >> Hyperwall
SVS >> Solar System >> Planets >> Mars >> Ionosphere
SVS >> Solar System >> Planets >> Mars >> Atmosphere
NASA Science >> Planets and Moons
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Sun-earth Interactions >> Ionosphere/Magnetosphere Dynamics >> Solar Wind

GCMD keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation: Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version