Humanity’s search for life on Mars may have just been dealt a sizeable blow.
New research suggests Mars’s relatively small size may have prevented it from holding large amounts of water – crucial for life on Earth and other planets.
The revelation may also dampen hopes of establishing a human colony on the Red Planet in the future.
In the 1980s, studies done by NASA on Martian meteorites, using remote sensing capabilities had revealed considerable evidence that Mars was once a water-rich world. Further analysis of the planet by the Viking Orbiter and more recently by Martian surface rovers Curiosity and Perseverance, unearthed even more evidence, including stunning images showing landscapes shaped by flood channels and river valleys.
Despite the evidence, the search for liquid water on the planet’s surface so far has yielded no results. Various explanations for the lack of water on the planet have been put forward, the most prominent of which suggests that the planet’s weakening magnetic field could have led to the loss of its atmosphere and liquid water.
But, in a new paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Washington University in St. Louis, United States suggest a more fundamental reason could be behind the Red Planet’s loss of liquid water.
Mars may have just been too small to retain large amounts of water.
According to Kun Wang, lead author of the study, and assistant professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences in Arts and Sciences at Washington University, there is likely a threshold for size requirements of rocky planets that exceeds the mass of Mars, for them to retain enough water to enable habitability and plate tectonics.
The researchers used stable potassium isotopes, which are moderately volatile to detect the presence and measure the abundance, and distribution of more volatile elements and compounds such as water, on different planetary surfaces.
The team measured the composition of potassium isotope on 20 confirmed Martian meteorites, selected to be representative of the red planet’s silicate composition. They found that compared to Earth, Mars had lost more potassium and other volatile elements during its formation, yet had retained more volatile elements than the moon, which is much smaller and direr than both Earth and Mars.
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