Atomic oxygen detected in Mar's atmosphere by Scientists

Scientists have detected atomic oxygen in the atmosphere of Mars for the first time since the last observation 40 years ago.
It was detected using an instrument onboard the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
SOFIA is a Boeing 747SP jetliner modified to carry a 100-inch diameter telescope. It is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Centre.
Key facts

  • The detected atomic oxygen was found in the upper layers of the Martian atmosphere known as the mesosphere.
  • It was detected by using the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT), an advanced detector on one of the observatory’s instruments.
  • The SOFIA was able to detect only about half the amount of oxygen expected, which may be due to variations in the Martian atmosphere.
  • The observations were possible due to SOFIA’s airborne location, flying between 37,000-45,000 feet, above most of the infrared-blocking moisture in Earth’s atmosphere.
  • Significance: Atomic oxygen affects other gases to escape from the Mars and therefore has a significant impact on the planet’s atmosphere. However the detection enabled astronomers to distinguish the oxygen in the Martian atmosphere from oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere.

Atomic oxygen in the Martian atmosphere is notoriously difficult to measure as far-infrared wavelengths are needed to detect it. However SOFIA help to detect it as it has highly sensitive instruments including spectrometer.
It should be noted that the last measurements of atomic oxygen in the Martian atmosphere were made by the Viking and Mariner missions of NASA in 1970s.



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