How solar storms blasted Mars’ atmosphere

Image: Mars transition
Atmospheric readings from NASA’s MAVEN orbiter, shown in this artist’s conception, are helping scientists figure out how Mars’ climate changed from warm to cold. (Credit: LASP / NASA)

Scientists studying Mars’ atmosphere say solar storms probably played a big role in transforming the Red Planet from the warm, hospitable place it was billions of years ago to the cold world it is today.

That’s just one of the many findings about Mars found in four dozen research papers published today by Science and Geophysical Research Letters. The source of the scientific cornucopia is NASA’s $671 million MAVEN mission, which put a bus-sized spacecraft into Martian orbit last year.

The mission’s name is an acronym that stands for Mars Atmosphere and VolatileEvolutioN. Its aim is to measure the current dynamics of the Martian atmosphere – and then factor those measurements into models to figure out how Mars lost much of its air billions of years ago.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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