The Red Planet has been the site of significant interest in the astronomic field for numerous years. The planet once displaying signs of potential habitability, has grown to suggest that its atmosphere has become drier with time.

The Curiosity rover captured the first close-up examination of an alien surface in December 2015, detecting unusual sand dunes on the planet’s surface. Astronomers believe that such a finding could offer insight into Mars’ past, showing how the world has evolved.

Mars, once displaying signs of potential habitability, has grown to suggest that its atmosphere has become drier with time. Photo credit: NASA
Mars, once displaying signs of potential habitability, has grown to suggest that its atmosphere has become drier with time. Photo credit: NASA

According to Tech Times, sand ripples that we can see on our home planet only have two types, whereas those recently spotted on Mars have three. Sand ripple sizes on dry land on Earth range between small and large, those recorded on the Red Planet show an intermediate one. Such a discovery has prompted astronomers to want to investigate more on Mars’ geophysical history.

Sands in an hour glass

On Earth, large sand dunes or smaller ripples are formed by wind and water passing over sand, either in dry land or undersea, which scientists have coined bedforms. On Mars, intermediate-sized ripples were detected, which scientists initially believed were bigger versions of those seen on our home planet. However, thanks to data captured by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Curiosity rover, researchers came to understand that although wind passing over sand caused the fossilized dunes, evidence shows a remarkable similarity in shape and spacing to ripples found underwater.

The researchers noticed that change in atmospheric density differentiated the size of the various ripples, leading them to use the sedimentary rocks as indicators of the evolution of Mars’ atmosphere. Such findings can help scientists determine how and why this lonely, rocky, frozen wasteland of a Red planet has changed so much.

Astronomers first detected sedimentary rock layers on Mars in 2000, making it one of the leading key discoveries of the Red planet. The reason for such excitement is that these rock layers indicate that liquid water once existed there, prompting the question of whether Mars was once habitable and similar to Earth.

Simultaneously, the more recent research conducted by Mathieu Lapotre and his team gave more detailed evidence on the former-happenings on the planet’s surface.

Was Mars rich in oxygen?

According to the Washington Post, a study lead by a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Nina Lanza, and published in the Geophysical Research Letters journal, was centered on the discovery of manganese oxide on Mars and what that meant.

Manganese oxide forms in wet, oxygen-rich conditions, which is what Lanza and her colleagues argue may have been what composed Mars’ atmosphere. Once again, pointing to how the Red Planet could have actually been something like Earth’s cousin.

Thus, the first study demonstrates that Mars lost its atmosphere over the years, leaving it thin and dry as we know it today. The second shows that before this happened, it was once an oxygen-thriving planet home to large bodies of water.

Another question that may raise here is that if Mars was once so similar to Earth, could it serve as a forecast of how Earth will become in the distant future?

Source: The Washington Post