Atmosphere of Mars

Atmosphere of Mars

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Chemical species
Chemical species
Chemical species are atoms, molecules, molecular fragments, ions, etc., being subjected to a chemical process or to a measurement. Generally, a chemical species can be defined as an ensemble of chemically identical molecular entities that can explore the same set of molecular energy levels on a...

mole fraction
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

95.32%
Nitrogen
Nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

2.7%
Argon
Argon
Argon is a chemical element represented by the symbol Ar. Argon has atomic number 18 and is the third element in group 18 of the periodic table . Argon is the third most common gas in the Earth's atmosphere, at 0.93%, making it more common than carbon dioxide...

1.6%
Oxygen
Oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

0.13%
Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide , also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air. It is highly toxic to humans and animals in higher quantities, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal...

0.07%
Water vapor
Water vapor
Water vapor or water vapour , also aqueous vapor, is the gas phase of water. It is one state of water within the hydrosphere. Water vapor can be produced from the evaporation or boiling of liquid water or from the sublimation of ice. Under typical atmospheric conditions, water vapor is continuously...

0.03%
Nitric oxide
Nitric oxide
Nitric oxide, also known as nitrogen monoxide, is a diatomic molecule with chemical formula NO. It is a free radical and is an important intermediate in the chemical industry...

0.013%
Neon
Neon
Neon is the chemical element that has the symbol Ne and an atomic number of 10. Although a very common element in the universe, it is rare on Earth. A colorless, inert noble gas under standard conditions, neon gives a distinct reddish-orange glow when used in either low-voltage neon glow lamps or...

2.5 μmol/mol
Krypton
Krypton
Krypton is a chemical element with the symbol Kr and atomic number 36. It is a member of Group 18 and Period 4 elements. A colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas, krypton occurs in trace amounts in the atmosphere, is isolated by fractionally distilling liquified air, and is often used with other...

300 nmol/mol
Formaldehyde
Formaldehyde
Formaldehyde is an organic compound with the formula CH2O. It is the simplest aldehyde, hence its systematic name methanal.Formaldehyde is a colorless gas with a characteristic pungent odor. It is an important precursor to many other chemical compounds, especially for polymers...

130 nmol/mol
Xenon
Xenon
Xenon is a chemical element with the symbol Xe and atomic number 54. The element name is pronounced or . A colorless, heavy, odorless noble gas, xenon occurs in the Earth's atmosphere in trace amounts...

80 nmol/mol
Ozone
Ozone
Ozone , or trioxygen, is a triatomic molecule, consisting of three oxygen atoms. It is an allotrope of oxygen that is much less stable than the diatomic allotrope...

30 nmol/mol
Methane
Methane
Methane is a chemical compound with the chemical formula . It is the simplest alkane, the principal component of natural gas, and probably the most abundant organic compound on earth. The relative abundance of methane makes it an attractive fuel...

10.5 nmol/mol


The atmosphere of Mars
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

is relatively thin and is composed mostly of carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

 (95.32%). There has been interest in studying its composition since the detection of trace amounts of methane
Methane
Methane is a chemical compound with the chemical formula . It is the simplest alkane, the principal component of natural gas, and probably the most abundant organic compound on earth. The relative abundance of methane makes it an attractive fuel...

, which may indicate the presence of life on Mars
Life on Mars
Scientists have long speculated about the possibility of life on Mars owing to the planet's proximity and similarity to Earth. Fictional Martians have been a recurring feature of popular entertainment of the 20th and 21st centuries, but it remains an open question whether life currently exists on...

, but may also be produced by a geochemical process, volcanic or hydrothermal activity.

The atmospheric pressure
Atmospheric pressure
Atmospheric pressure is the force per unit area exerted into a surface by the weight of air above that surface in the atmosphere of Earth . In most circumstances atmospheric pressure is closely approximated by the hydrostatic pressure caused by the weight of air above the measurement point...

 on the surface of Mars varies from around 30 pascal (0.00435113213201253 psi) on Olympus Mons
Olympus Mons
Olympus Mons is a large volcanic mountain on the planet Mars. At a height of almost , it is one of the tallest mountains in the Solar System, three times as tall as Mount Everest and more than twice the height of Mauna Kea the tallest mountain on Earth. Olympus Mons is the youngest of the large...

's peak to over 1155 pascal (0.167518587082482 psi) in the depths of Hellas Planitia
Hellas Planitia
Hellas Planitia, also known as the Hellas Impact Basin, is a huge, roughly circular impact basin located in the southern hemisphere of the planet Mars. It is the second or third largest impact crater and the largest visible impact crater known in the Solar System...

, with a mean surface level pressure of 600 pascal (0.0870226426402505 psi), compared to Earth's sea level average of 101.3 kilopascals (14.7 psi), and a total mass of 25 teratonnes, compared to Earth's 5148 teratonnes. However, the scale height
Scale height
In various scientific contexts, a scale height is a distance over which a quantity decreases by a factor of e...

 of the atmosphere is about 11 kilometres (6.8 mi), somewhat higher than Earth's 7 kilometres (4.3 mi). The atmosphere on Mars consists of 95% carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

, 3% nitrogen
Nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

, 1.6% argon
Argon
Argon is a chemical element represented by the symbol Ar. Argon has atomic number 18 and is the third element in group 18 of the periodic table . Argon is the third most common gas in the Earth's atmosphere, at 0.93%, making it more common than carbon dioxide...

, and contains traces of oxygen
Oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

, water
Water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

, and methane
Methane
Methane is a chemical compound with the chemical formula . It is the simplest alkane, the principal component of natural gas, and probably the most abundant organic compound on earth. The relative abundance of methane makes it an attractive fuel...

, for a mean molar mass
Molar mass
Molar mass, symbol M, is a physical property of a given substance , namely its mass per amount of substance. The base SI unit for mass is the kilogram and that for amount of substance is the mole. Thus, the derived unit for molar mass is kg/mol...

 of 43.34 g/mol. The atmosphere is quite dusty, giving the Martian sky a light brown or orange color when seen from the surface; data from the Mars Exploration Rovers indicate that suspended dust particles within the atmosphere are roughly 1.5 micrometre
Micrometre
A micrometer , is by definition 1×10-6 of a meter .In plain English, it means one-millionth of a meter . Its unit symbol in the International System of Units is μm...

s across.

History


Mars' atmosphere is believed to have changed over the course of the planet's lifetime, with evidence suggesting the possibility that Mars had large oceans a few billion years ago. As stated in the Mars Ocean Hypothesis
Mars Ocean Hypothesis
The Mars Ocean Hypothesis states that nearly a third of the surface of Mars was covered by an ocean of liquid water early in the planet’s geologic history....

, atmospheric pressure on the present day Martian surface only exceeds that of the triple point
Triple point
In thermodynamics, the triple point of a substance is the temperature and pressure at which the three phases of that substance coexist in thermodynamic equilibrium...

 of water (6.11 hectopascal (0.0886180577553218 psi)) in the lowest elevations; at higher elevations water can exist only in solid or vapor form. Annual mean temperatures at the surface are currently less than 210 K, significantly lower than what is needed to sustain liquid water. However, early in its history Mars may have had conditions more conducive to retaining liquid water at the surface.

Possible causes for the depletion of a previously thicker Martian atmosphere include:
  • Catastrophic collision by a body large enough to blow away a significant percentage of the atmosphere;
  • Gradual erosion of the atmosphere by solar wind; and
  • On-going removal of atmosphere due to electromagnetic field and solar wind interaction.




Structure


Mars' atmosphere is composed of the following layers:
  • Lower atmosphere: This is a warm region affected by heat from airborne dust
    Dust
    Dust consists of particles in the atmosphere that arise from various sources such as soil dust lifted up by wind , volcanic eruptions, and pollution...

     and from the ground.
  • Middle atmosphere: Mars has a jetstream
    JetStream
    JetStream and Mobile JetStream are two former brand names used by Telecom New Zealand to market its retail and resale ADSL-based fixed line and CDMA2000-based 3G wireless Internet access offerings respectively...

    , which flows in this region.
  • Upper atmosphere, or thermosphere: This region has very high temperatures, caused by heating from the Sun. Atmospheric gases start to separate from each other at these altitudes, rather than forming the even mix found in the lower atmospheric layers.
  • Exosphere: Typically stated to start at 200 kilometres (124.3 mi) and higher, this region is where the last wisps of atmosphere merge into the vacuum of space. There is no distinct boundary where the atmosphere ends; it just tapers away.

Composition



Carbon dioxide


The main component of the atmosphere of Mars is carbon dioxide . During the Martian winter the poles are in continual darkness and the surface gets so cold that as much as 25% of the atmospheric condenses at the polar caps into solid ice (dry ice
Dry ice
Dry ice, sometimes referred to as "Cardice" or as "card ice" , is the solid form of carbon dioxide. It is used primarily as a cooling agent. Its advantages include lower temperature than that of water ice and not leaving any residue...

). When the poles are again exposed to sunlight during the Martian summer, the ice sublimates
Sublimation (physics)
Sublimation is the process of transition of a substance from the solid phase to the gas phase without passing through an intermediate liquid phase...

 back into the atmosphere. This process leads to a significant annual variation in the atmospheric pressure and atmospheric composition around the Martian poles.

Argon


The atmosphere of Mars is enriched considerably with the noble gas
Noble gas
The noble gases are a group of chemical elements with very similar properties: under standard conditions, they are all odorless, colorless, monatomic gases, with very low chemical reactivity...

 argon
Argon
Argon is a chemical element represented by the symbol Ar. Argon has atomic number 18 and is the third element in group 18 of the periodic table . Argon is the third most common gas in the Earth's atmosphere, at 0.93%, making it more common than carbon dioxide...

, in comparison to the atmosphere of the other planets within the Solar System
Solar System
The Solar System consists of the Sun and the astronomical objects gravitationally bound in orbit around it, all of which formed from the collapse of a giant molecular cloud approximately 4.6 billion years ago. The vast majority of the system's mass is in the Sun...

. Unlike carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

, the argon content of the atmosphere does not condense, and hence the total amount of argon in the Mars atmosphere is constant. However, the relative concentration at any given location can change as carbon dioxide moves in and out of the atmosphere. Recent satellite data shows an increase in atmospheric argon over the southern pole during its autumn, which dissipates the following spring.

Water




Other aspects of the Martian atmosphere vary significantly. As carbon dioxide sublimates back into the atmosphere during the Martian summer, it leaves traces of water. Seasonal winds sweep off the poles at speeds approaching 400 kilometres per hour (248.5 mph) and transport large amounts of dust and water vapor giving rise to Earth-like frost
Frost
Frost is the solid deposition of water vapor from saturated air. It is formed when solid surfaces are cooled to below the dew point of the adjacent air as well as below the freezing point of water. Frost crystals' size differ depending on time and water vapour available. Frost is also usually...

 and large cirrus cloud
Cirrus cloud
Cirrus clouds are atmospheric clouds generally characterized by thin, wispy strands, giving them their name from the Latin word cirrus meaning a ringlet or curling lock of hair...

s. These clouds of water-ice were photographed by the Opportunity
Opportunity rover
Opportunity, MER-B , is a robotic rover on the planet Mars, active since 2004. It is the remaining rover in NASA's ongoing Mars Exploration Rover Mission...

rover in 2004. NASA
NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

 scientists working on the Phoenix Mars mission confirmed on July 31, 2008 that they had indeed found subsurface water ice at Mars' northern polar region. Further analysis by the Phoenix lander will confirm whether the water was ever liquid and if it contains organic materials necessary for life.

Methane


Trace amounts of methane
Methane
Methane is a chemical compound with the chemical formula . It is the simplest alkane, the principal component of natural gas, and probably the most abundant organic compound on earth. The relative abundance of methane makes it an attractive fuel...

 (CH4), at the level of several nmol/mol (parts per billion, ppb), were first reported in Mars's atmosphere by a team at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in 2003.
In March 2004 the Mars Express Orbiter and ground based observations from Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope
Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope
The Canada–France–Hawaii Telescope is located near the summit of Mauna Kea mountain on Hawaii's Big Island at an altitude of 4,204 meters , and is one of the observatories that comprise the Mauna Kea Observatory...

 also suggested the presence of methane
Methane
Methane is a chemical compound with the chemical formula . It is the simplest alkane, the principal component of natural gas, and probably the most abundant organic compound on earth. The relative abundance of methane makes it an attractive fuel...

 in the atmosphere with a mole fraction of about 10 nmol/mol.


Because methane on Mars would quickly break down due to ultraviolet radiation from the Sun and chemical reactions with other gases, its reported persistent presence in the atmosphere also necessitates the existence of a source to continually replenish the gas. Current photochemical models alone can not explain neither the fast appearance nor the disappearance of the methane, or its reported variations in space and time. It had been proposed that the methane might be replenished by meteorites entering the atmosphere of Mars, but researchers from Imperial College London
Imperial College London
Imperial College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom, specialising in science, engineering, business and medicine...

 found that the volumes of methane released this way are too low to sustain the measured levels of the gas.

The methane occurs in extended plumes, and their profiles imply that the gas was released from sources in three discrete regions. In northern midsummer, the principal plume contained 19,000 metric tons of methane, with an estimated source strength of 0.6 kilogram per second. The profiles suggest that there may be two local source regions, the first centered near 30° N, 260° W and the second near 0°, 310° W. It is estimated that Mars must produce 270 ton/year of methane.

Research suggests that the implied methane destruction lifetime is as long as ~4 Earth years and as short as ~0.6 Earth years. This lifetime is short enough for the atmospheric circulation to yield the observed uneven distribution of methane across the planet. In either case, the destruction lifetime for methane is much shorter than the timescale (~350 years) estimated for photochemical (UV radiation) destruction. The rapid destruction of methane suggests another process must dominate removal of atmospheric methane on Mars and it must be more efficient than destruction by light by a factor of 100x to 600x. This unexplained fast destruction rate also suggests a very active replenishing source. A possibility is that the methane is not consumed at all, but rather condenses and evaporates seasonally from clathrates
Clathrate compound
A clathrate, clathrate compound or cage compound is a chemical substance consisting of a lattice of one type of molecule trapping and containing a second type of molecule...

.

Although the methane could stem from a geological source, the lack of current volcanism
Volcanism
Volcanism is the phenomenon connected with volcanoes and volcanic activity. It includes all phenomena resulting from and causing magma within the crust or mantle of a planet to rise through the crust and form volcanic rocks on the surface....

, hydrothermal activity or hotspots
Hotspot (geology)
The places known as hotspots or hot spots in geology are volcanic regions thought to be fed by underlying mantle that is anomalously hot compared with the mantle elsewhere. They may be on, near to, or far from tectonic plate boundaries. There are two hypotheses to explain them...

 are not favorable for a geological explanation. Living microorganism
Microorganism
A microorganism or microbe is a microscopic organism that comprises either a single cell , cell clusters, or no cell at all...

s, such as methanogen
Methanogen
Methanogens are microorganisms that produce methane as a metabolic byproduct in anoxic conditions. They are classified as archaea, a group quite distinct from bacteria...

s, are another possible source, but no evidence exists for the presence of such organisms anywhere on Mars. NASA
NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

 and ESA are planning to look for companion gases that may suggest which sources are most likely; in the Earth's oceans, biological methane production tends to be accompanied by ethane
Ethane
Ethane is a chemical compound with chemical formula C2H6. It is the only two-carbon alkane that is an aliphatic hydrocarbon. At standard temperature and pressure, ethane is a colorless, odorless gas....

, while volcanic methane is accompanied by sulfur dioxide
Sulfur dioxide
Sulfur dioxide is the chemical compound with the formula . It is released by volcanoes and in various industrial processes. Since coal and petroleum often contain sulfur compounds, their combustion generates sulfur dioxide unless the sulfur compounds are removed before burning the fuel...

.

The principal candidates for the origin of Mars methane include non-biological processes such as water-rock reactions, radiolysis of water, and pyrite formation, all of which produce H2 that could then generate methane and hydrocarbons via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis with CO and CO2. It was also recently shown that methane could be produced by a process involving water, carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

, and the mineral
Mineral
A mineral is a naturally occurring solid chemical substance formed through biogeochemical processes, having characteristic chemical composition, highly ordered atomic structure, and specific physical properties. By comparison, a rock is an aggregate of minerals and/or mineraloids and does not...

 olivine
Olivine
The mineral olivine is a magnesium iron silicate with the formula 2SiO4. It is a common mineral in the Earth's subsurface but weathers quickly on the surface....

, which is known to be common on Mars. The required conditions for this reaction (i.e. high temperature and pressure) do not exist on the surface, but may exist within the crust. To prove this process is occurring, serpentinite
Serpentinite
Serpentinite is a rock composed of one or more serpentine group minerals. Minerals in this group are formed by serpentinization, a hydration and metamorphic transformation of ultramafic rock from the Earth's mantle...

, a mineral by-product of the process would be detected. Another possible geophysical source could be clathrate hydrates.

The European Space Agency
European Space Agency
The European Space Agency , established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organisation dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 18 member states...

 (ESA) found that the concentrations of methane in the Martian atmosphere were not even, but coincided with the presence of water vapor. In the upper atmosphere these two gases are uniformly distributed, but near the surface they concentrate in three equatorial regions, namely Arabia Terra
Arabia Terra
Arabia Terra is a large upland region in the north of Mars in that lies mostly in the Arabia quadrangle. It is densely cratered and heavily eroded. This battered topography indicates great age, and Arabia Terra is presumed to be one of the oldest terrains on the planet...

, Elysium Planitia
Elysium Planitia
Elysium Planitia is the second largest volcanic region on Mars, after Tharsis Montes. It is centered at . It includes volcanoes, from north to south, Hecates Tholus, Elysium Mons and Albor Tholus. Another large volcano, Apollinaris Mons, lies south of the others. Besides having large volcanoes,...

, and Arcadia Memnonia. Planetary scientist David H. Grinspoon
David Grinspoon
David H. Grinspoon is an American astrobiologist. He is the current curator of Astrobiology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. He has published numerous works, such as Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life, which won the 2004 PEN literary award for nonfiction.Currently, he...

 of the Southwest Research Institute
Southwest Research Institute
Southwest Research Institute , headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is one of the oldest and largest independent, nonprofit, applied research and development organizations in the United States...

 believes the coincidence of water vapor and methane increases the chance that the methane is of biological origin, but he cautions that it is uncertain how life could have survived so long on a planet as inhospitable as Mars. It has been suggested that caves may be the only natural structures capable of protecting primitive life forms from micrometeoroids, UV radiation, solar flares and high energy particles that bombard the planet's surface.

In contrast to the findings described above, studies by Kevin Zahnle, a planetary scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, and two colleagues, conclude that "there is as yet no compelling evidence for methane on Mars". They argue that the strongest reported observations of the gas to date have been taken at frequencies where interference from methane in the Earth's atmosphere
Earth's atmosphere
The atmosphere of Earth is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention , and reducing temperature extremes between day and night...

 is particularly difficult to remove, and are thus unreliable. Additionally, they claim that the published observations most favorable to interpretation as indicative of Martian methane are also consistent with no methane being present on Mars.

Ultimately, to determine the provenance of the Martian methane findings, a future probe or lander hosting a mass spectrometer must be sent to Mars. Efforts to identify the sources of terrestrial methane have found that measurements of different methane isotopologues do not necessarily distinguish between possible geologic and biogenic sources, but the abundances of other cogenerated gases, such as ethane
Ethane
Ethane is a chemical compound with chemical formula C2H6. It is the only two-carbon alkane that is an aliphatic hydrocarbon. At standard temperature and pressure, ethane is a colorless, odorless gas....

 (C2H6), relative to methane do; the ethane/methane abundance ratio is<0.001 for biogenic sources, while other sources produce nearly equivalent amounts of methane and ethane.

The Mars Science Laboratory
Mars Science Laboratory
The Mars Science Laboratory is a National Aeronautics and Space Administration mission with the aim to land and operate a rover named Curiosity on the surface of Mars. The MSL was launched November 26, 2011, at 10:02 EST and is scheduled to land on Mars at Gale Crater between August 6 and 20, 2012...

 rover, scheduled to land on Mars in 2012, will be able to make measurements that distinguish between different isotopologues of methane, but even if the mission is to determine that microscopic Martian life is the source of the methane, the lifeforms likely resides far below the surface, outside of the rover's reach. The Mars Trace Gas Mission orbiter planned to launch in 2016 would further study the methane, as well as its decomposition products such as formaldehyde
Formaldehyde
Formaldehyde is an organic compound with the formula CH2O. It is the simplest aldehyde, hence its systematic name methanal.Formaldehyde is a colorless gas with a characteristic pungent odor. It is an important precursor to many other chemical compounds, especially for polymers...

 and methanol
Methanol
Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, wood alcohol, wood naphtha or wood spirits, is a chemical with the formula CH3OH . It is the simplest alcohol, and is a light, volatile, colorless, flammable liquid with a distinctive odor very similar to, but slightly sweeter than, ethanol...

.

Potential for use by humans


The atmosphere of Mars is a resource of known composition available at any landing site on Mars. It has been proposed that human exploration of Mars
Manned mission to Mars
A manned mission to Mars has been the subject of science fiction, engineering, and scientific proposals throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century...

 could use carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

 (CO2) from Martian atmosphere to make rocket fuel for the return mission. Mission studies that propose using the atmosphere in this way include the Mars Direct
Mars Direct
Mars Direct is a proposal for a manned mission to Mars. Proponents of the scheme have claimed it to be both cost-effective and that it can be conducted with current technology. It was originally detailed in a research paper by NASA engineers Robert Zubrin and David Baker in 1990, and later expanded...

 proposal of Robert Zubrin
Robert Zubrin
Robert Zubrin is an American aerospace engineer and author, best known for his advocacy of the manned exploration of Mars. He was the driving force behind Mars Direct—a proposal intended to produce significant reductions in the cost and complexity of such a mission...

 and the NASA Design reference mission study. Two major chemical pathways for use of the carbon dioxide are the Sabatier reaction
Sabatier reaction
The Sabatier reaction or Sabatier process involves the reaction of hydrogen with carbon dioxide at elevated temperatures and pressures in the presence of a nickel catalyst to produce methane and water. Optionally ruthenium on alumina makes a more efficient catalyst...

, converting atmospheric carbon dioxide along with additional hydrogen (H2), to produce methane (CH4) and oxygen (O2), and electrolysis
Electrolysis
In chemistry and manufacturing, electrolysis is a method of using a direct electric current to drive an otherwise non-spontaneous chemical reaction...

, using a zirconia solid oxide electrolyte to split the carbon dioxide into oxygen (O2) and carbon monoxide (CO).

See also



  • Climate of Mars
    Climate of Mars
    The climate of Mars has been an issue of scientific curiosity for centuries, not least because Mars is the only terrestrial planet whose surface can be directly observed in detail from the Earth....

  • Life on Mars
    Life on Mars
    Scientists have long speculated about the possibility of life on Mars owing to the planet's proximity and similarity to Earth. Fictional Martians have been a recurring feature of popular entertainment of the 20th and 21st centuries, but it remains an open question whether life currently exists on...

  • Mars regional atmospheric modeling system
    Mars regional atmospheric modeling system
    The Mars Regional Atmospheric Modeling System is a computer program that simulates the circulations of the Martian atmosphere at regional and local scales...

  • Martian geyser‎
  • MetNet
    MetNet
    MetNet is an atmospheric science mission to Mars, initiated and defined by the Finnish Meteorological Institute. The mission includes sending several tens of MetNet landers on the Martian surface. The objective is to establish a widespread surface observation network on Mars to investigate the...

     - a proposed widespread surface observation network in Mars.
  • Seasonal flows on warm Martian slopes
    Seasonal flows on warm Martian slopes
    Observations from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed possible flowing water during the warmest months on Mars. Research suggests that in the past there was liquid water flowing on the surface, creating large areas similar to Earth's oceans. However, the question remains as to where...

  • In Situ Resource Utilization
  • Terraforming of Mars
    Terraforming of Mars
    The terraforming of Mars is the hypothetical process by which the climate, surface, and known properties of Mars would be deliberately changed with the goal of making it habitable by humans and other terrestrial life, thus providing the possibility of safe and sustainable colonization of large...

  • Total Recall
    Total Recall
    Total Recall is a 1990 American science fiction action film. The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Ronny Cox & Mel Johnson, Jr.. It is based on the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”...

    , a science-fiction film where Mars' atmosphere
    Mars in fiction
    Fictional representations of Mars have been popular for over a century. Interest in Mars has been stimulated by the planet's dramatic red color, by early scientific speculations that its surface conditions might be capable of supporting life, and by the possibility that Mars could be colonized by...

    is part of the plot.


Further reading


External links