What happened to the water that, it is believed, was once widely present on Mars? This question is troubling the minds of many scholars and astronomers, but the answer is far from certain. A new study puts another hypothesis on the table: what made the water disappear, or at least part of it, could have been the strong and great sandstorms, one of the most characteristic features of the red planet.
We are talking about almost global storms involving a large part of the planet, phenomena not uncommon on Mars and that have already been detected several times by NASA spacecraft since the 70s or by rovers sent to the red planet from the late 90s onwards.
The problems regarding Martian water began when the planet lost its magnetic field about 4 billion years ago. With the disappearance of this real protective barrier, solar particles had an easy time ripping water particles from the surface of the planet to disperse them into space.
Dust storms may have helped this process, according to a group of scientists who used data from the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), an orbiter launched by the European Space Agency.
The orbiter analyzed Martian water molecules during the 2018 sandstorm, which, among other things, disrupted the Opportunity rover that has never recovered since. During this sandstorm, the HRT detected significant amounts of water molecules at a higher distance in the Martian sky than the surface, i.e. at a distance of more than 50 miles on the ground.
This is a point where the air is very thin and where solar radiation has easy play in breaking water molecules into their constituent parts and then dispersing them into space.
This showed that it was the sandstorm that brought the water molecules higher than normal conditions.
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