NASA has announced the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) flying observatory has detected atomic oxygen in the upper layers of atmosphere of Mars. The discover comes nearly 40 years after the first observation of the Red Planet’s atmosphere.
According to NASA, atomic oxygen affects how other gases escape Mars and therefore has a significant impact on the planet’s atmosphere. (Side note, want to go to Mars? Check out this primer.)
This doesn’t exactly mean we should pack our bags and set off for the fourth rock from the sun. NASA says scientists detected only about half the amount of oxygen expected, which may be due to variations in the Martian atmosphere. Scientists will continue to use SOFIA to study these variations to help better understand the atmosphere of the Red Planet.
“Atomic oxygen in the Martian atmosphere is notoriously difficult to measure,” said Pamela Marcum, SOFIA project scientist. “To observe the far-infrared wavelengths needed to detect atomic oxygen, researchers must be above the majority of Earth’s atmosphere and use highly sensitive instruments, in this case a spectrometer. SOFIA provides both capabilities.”