Atomic Oxygen Detected In Martian Atmosphere

  • Mary Nichols , Design & Trend Contributor
  • May, 11, 2016, 07:04 AM
Tags : science, news
Atomic Oxygen
(Photo : Getty Image/NASA) Atomic oxygen has been detected in the Martian atmosphere, according to NASA.

Atomic oxygen has been detected in the Martian atmosphere, according to NASA.

The observation, which was made by an instrument aboard the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is the first that has been made since astronomers discovered atmospheric oxygen on the Red Planet 40 years ago, writes Tech Times.

Atomic oxygen affects how other gases escape the Red Planet, which influences the composition of the planet's atmosphere.

The atoms were detected in the upper layer of Mars' atmosphere, known as the mesosphere.

Astronomers said the amount of atomic oxygen they detected was only about half of what they had anticipated. However, the lower readings may have occurred due to fluctuations in the Martian atmosphere.

NASA researchers said they will continue to use readings from SOFIA to ensure their readings are accurate and not due to atmospheric variations.

Researchers last detected atomic oxygen in the atmosphere of Mars during the 1970s -when the Mariner and Viking missions had been deployed. Since then, it has taken up until now to make another observation due to the density of the sky on Earth.

The skies on Earth are dense and moist, preventing researchers from accurately measuring what lies beyond.
An instrument aboard SOFIA -- a Boeing 747SP jet modified to carry a 100-inch-diameter telescope for scientific research, was responsible for the atomic oxygen reading on Mars.

The flying observatory is capable of flying 45,000 feet above Earth's atmosphere, giving researchers a chance to observe far-infrared wavelengths.

"To observe the far-infrared wavelengths needed to detect atomic oxygen, researchers must be above the majority of Earth's atmosphere and use highly sensitive instruments, in this case a spectrometer. SOFIA provides both capabilities," SOFIA Project Scientist Pamela Marcum, said in a statement.

Atomic oxygen is also a subject of interest among NASA researchers as part of their research for future manned missions to Mars. Past shuttle missions have been impacted by the presence of atomic oxygen.

"In the first few shuttle flights, materials looked frosty because they were actually being eroded and textured," Physicist Bruce Banks said in a statement.

"Atomic oxygen reacts with organic materials on spacecraft exteriors, gradually damaging them," he added.

The findings were published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

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