Chemistry in the surface material on Mars contributed dynamically to the make-up of its atmosphere over time, a study has found.
The findings come from the NASA’s Curiosity rover’s Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM, instrument suite, which studied the gases xenon and krypton in the Mars atmosphere.
The two gases can be used as tracers to help scientists investigate the evolution and erosion of the Martian atmosphere.
The SAM team ran a series of first-of-a-kind experiments to measure all the isotopes of xenon and krypton in the Martian atmosphere, a paper published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters said.
The team’s method is called static mass spectrometry, and it is good for detecting gases or isotopes that are present only in trace amounts.
“The unique capability to measure in situ the six and nine different isotopes of krypton and xenon allows scientists to delve into the complex interactions between the Martian atmosphere and crust,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Programme at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
“Discovering these interactions through time allows us to gain a greater understanding of planetary evolution,” Meyer noted.
A lot of information about xenon and krypton in Mars’ atmosphere came from analyses of Martian meteorites and measurements made by the Viking mission.
“What we found is that earlier studies of xenon and krypton only told part of the story,” lead author of the report Pamela Conrad, and SAM’s Deputy Principal Investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said.
“SAM is now giving us the first complete in situ benchmark against which to compare meteorite measurements,” Conrad noted.