NASA’s MAVEN mission is unravelling some mysteries which has been hidden till now. In one of the most comprehensive observations of hydrogen loss to date, the spacecraft’s instruments have detected that Mars loses ten times more Hydrogen when it is closer to the sun.
After a careful study of the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere for a full Martian Year, it has been revealed that the escaping water does not always go gently into space. Sensitive instruments aboard the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, shows the fluctuating amounts of Hydrogen escaping from the planet and so also water also.
The Escape of Hydrogen peaked when the Red Planet reached its closest point to the Sun and decreased when the planet is farthest from Sun. The rate of Hydrogen gas loss was dramatic at the both extremes and was ten times more when it is near the Sun as compared to when it is at its farthest.
The unprecedented loss of Hydrogen from the Martian surface is crucial to understand the loss of water from the planet in billions of years. The Hydrogen in the upper atmosphere of the Martian planet comes from the water vapour in the lower atmosphere when it is broken by sunlight releasing two atoms of Hydrogen.
There are several processes which are at work in Mars’ upper atmosphere which acts on the hydrogen, leading to its escape. The loss is almost constant just like a leak in tube or balloon. However, observations made by the Hubble telescope and European Space Agency’s Mars Express Orbiter found the loss characterised by unexpected fluctuations. However, only a few measurements have been made. MAVEN has been tracking the loss of Hydrogen without any interruption over the course of a Martian year which is equivalent to two Earth years.