Mars may be too small to hold liquid water, study indicates

Thanks to observations of orbiters and also robotic surface explorers such as the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers, we already know that liquid water flowed across the surface of Mars in the distant past. However, that changed about 3.5 billion years ago, when the Red Planet lost its magnetic field that helped hold water. Now, a new study, led by Zhen Tian of Washington University, suggests that our neighbor may be too small to keep large amounts of water on its surface.

  • The water that Mars lost may not have gone into space, but into the crust
  • Water from Mars is escaping space—and dust storms are to blame

  • Saltwater is “erasing” records of Mars’ past , marked in minerals

Several remote sensing studies and analyzes of meteorites from Mars previously conducted indicate that the planet was once rich in water , and this has been reinforced by more recent evidence. However, what we see today is a dry and arid planet. Kun Wang, an assistant professor and one of the study’s authors, explains that the fate of Mars was decided from the start. “There’s probably a limit on the size requirements of rocky planets to retain enough water to allow for habitability and plate tectonics,” he said — and perhaps that limit is higher than Mars is.


For the study, the team analyzed meteorites from Mars, selected because they represent the main component of the planet’s composition. The idea was to measure the abundance of varied potassium isotopes in the rocks, because this works as a “tracker” for elements and more volatile compounds, such as water. They found that Mars lost much more volatiles during its formation than Earth, but on the other hand, the planet retained these compounds more efficiently than the Moon and even the asteroid Vesta, smaller bodies and drier than Mars.

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So they realized there was a relationship between body size and isotopic composition. Katharina Lodders, professor and co-author of the study, says that finding the correlation between isotopic composition and planet gravity is a new finding, with important quantitative implications for when and how planets differentiate (ie, those whose interior is separated into layers such as crust, mantle and core) have received and lost their volatiles. life on other planets. Therefore, smaller dimensions are related to habitability: these planets lose large amounts of water during formation, and their magnetic fields ceased to exist relatively early, which reduces the thickness of the atmosphere. Furthermore, the authors believe that this study may have implications for the search for habitable exoplanets in other star systems.

The article with the results of the study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

Source: Washington University,

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