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.
"Mars appears to have had a thick atmosphere warm enough to support liquid water which is a key ingredient and medium for life as we currently know it," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for the NASA Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "Understanding what happened to the Mars atmosphere will inform our knowledge of the dynamics and evolution of any planetary atmosphere. Learning what can cause changes to a planet's environment from one that could host microbes at the surface to one that doesn't is important to know, and is a key question that is being addressed in NASA’s journey to Mars."