Mars Has Metal In Its Atmosphere, Reveals NASA Probe

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Mars Has Metal In Its Atmosphere, Reveals NASA Probe

The metal comes from a constant rain of tiny meteoroids onto the Red Planet (Representational)

Washington:  Mars has electrically charged metal atoms (ions) high in its atmosphere, show results from NASA's MAVEN spacecraft.

The  metal ions can reveal previously invisible activity in the mysterious  electrically charged upper atmosphere (ionosphere) of the Red Planet.

"MAVEN  has made the first direct detection of the permanent presence of metal  ions in the ionosphere of a planet other than Earth," said Joseph  Grebowsky of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. 

MAVEN  (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission) is exploring the  Martian upper atmosphere to understand how the planet lost most of its  air, transforming from a world that could have supported life billions  of years ago into a cold desert planet today. 

Understanding  ionospheric activity is shedding light on how the Martian atmosphere is  being lost to space, according to the team.

"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," said Grebowsky, who is lead  author of a paper on this research published in the journal Geophysical  Research Letters.

The metal comes from a constant rain of tiny meteoroids onto the Red Planet. When a high-speed meteoroid hits the  Martian atmosphere, it vaporises. 

Metal atoms in the vapor trail  get some of their electrons torn away by other charged atoms and  molecules in the ionosphere, transforming the metal atoms into  electrically charged ions, the study said.

There has also been indirect evidence for metal ions above other planets in our solar system. 

However,  long-term direct detection of the metal ions by MAVEN is the first  conclusive evidence that these ions exist on another planet and that  they are a permanent feature there.

"Observing metal ions on  another planet gives us something to compare and contrast with Earth to  understand the ionosphere and atmospheric chemistry better," Grebowsky  said.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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