Two British scientists said on Wednesday they had detected water vapor escaping from the atmosphere of Mars, a new clue that could support the thesis according to which the red planet once sheltered life.
It is widely believed that Mars possessed abundant water in liquid form in the past, along with lakes and rivers. Today, all the water on the Red Planet is mostly locked up in its ice caps or underground.
But according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances by two British researchers at the Open University, some of this water still evaporates, in the form of hydrogen escaping from the Martian atmosphere.
The discovery was made thanks to a small device called NOMAD – placed on board the ExoMars probe of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Roscosmos – which measures the light passing through the planet’s atmosphere.
“The NOMAD instrument is fundamentally changing our understanding of the evolution of water on Mars,” said Dr. Manish Patel, co-author of the study.
According to this senior lecturer in Planetary Sciences, the instrument “gives unprecedented knowledge of the isotopes of water in the atmosphere of Mars as a function of both time and their location” on the planet, a “crucial element to understand how Mars lost its water over time ”, and therefore how its“ habitability has changed throughout its history ”.
Sue Horne, head of space exploration at the British Space Agency, she said that this research was “a key element in our quest to unravel the mysteries of the red planet”.
“Understanding water vapor on Mars will help us answer the essential question: was there life on Mars? ”, She added.
This new study comes within a week already loaded with space news, and especially Martian.
Earlier today, China’s Tianwen-1 probe entered orbit after being launched from China last July, as part of Beijing’s ambitious space program.
On Tuesday, the United Arab Emirates’ Hope probe also successfully entered orbit of Mars, marking a shattering entry into history for this first interplanetary mission to the Arab world.