Environment & Science

NASA: Sun stripping away Martian atmosphere, left dry planet

From NASA: Artist’s rendering of a solar storm hitting Mars and stripping ions from the planet's upper atmosphere.
From NASA: Artist’s rendering of a solar storm hitting Mars and stripping ions from the planet's upper atmosphere.
NASA/GSFC

NASA's Mars-orbiting Maven spacecraft has discovered that the sun robbed the red planet of its once-thick atmosphere and water.

On Thursday, scientists reported that even today, the solar wind is stripping away about 100 grams of atmospheric gas every second. That's about a quarter-pound a second. Maven scientist Dave Brain told reporters he can't help but imagine hamburgers shooting out of the Martian atmosphere.

Major solar storms were more prevalent in the solar system's early history. So billions of years ago, these storms gutted the Martian atmosphere, as opposed to the much lower loss ongoing today.

The findings appear in this week's Science journal. The issue includes four studies conducted by the spacecraft, which has been circling Mars and studying its atmosphere for the past year.

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