LIFE ON MARS? Red Planet more like Earth than previously thought
NASA has revealed that its MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission) spacecraft, which is currently in orbit in Mars’ upper atmosphere known as the ionosphere, detected metal ions.
According to the space agency, MAVEN has detected iron, magnesium, and sodium ions.
The discovery is a major breakthrough as it goes someway to confirm that the Red Planet was once Earth-like, meaning that it could have supported life.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
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Joseph Grebowsky of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and lead author of the study, said: "MAVEN has made the first direct detection of the permanent presence of metal ions in the ionosphere of a planet other than Earth.
"Because metallic ions have long lifetimes and are transported far from their region of origin by neutral winds and electric fields, they can be used to infer motion in the ionosphere, similar to the way we use a lofted leaf to reveal which way the wind is blowing."
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Mars was once more like Earth
Mr Grebowsky added: “Observing metal ions on another planet gives us something to compare and contrast with Earth to understand the ionosphere and atmospheric chemistry better.”
Metal is found in the atmosphere thanks to a prolonged spray of meteorites hitting certain planets.
Once the small space rocks hit the Martian atmosphere, electrons strip away the metallic ions where they remain.
MAVEN is currently exploring the Martian atmospheres to try to determine how exactly the planet lost its oxygen.