The mystery of Mars: strange fluctuations in oxygen levels

The mystery of Mars: strange fluctuations in oxygen levels
The mystery of Mars: strange fluctuations in oxygen levels

After studying the results of the analysis of atmospheric gases, astronomers said that they could not explain the mysterious fluctuations in the level of oxygen in the atmosphere of the Red Planet.

The composition of Mars' atmosphere is a source of constant surprises for astronomers. First - the mysterious movements of methane, which then disappears, then appears again. And now researchers have detected a series of increases and decreases in oxygen levels over Gale Crater in quantities that simply cannot be explained by any of the chemical processes we know.

This data came to Earth in 2020 thanks to the Curiosity rover, which is just methodically exploring the crater at the foot of Mount Sharp. The robot takes samples of not only soil, but also atmospheric gases, analyzing them using a built-in laboratory. Tracking the results of his work, scientists could not help but notice that something strange is happening with oxygen on the planet.

There is not much oxygen on Mars. 95% of its atmosphere is carbon dioxide, and the remainder is 2.6% molecular nitrogen (N2), 1.9% argon (Ar), 0.16% molecular oxygen (O2) and 0.06% carbon monoxide (CO) … Atmospheric pressure changes throughout the year because in the winter hemisphere, CO2 freezes and the gas balance shifts to equalize pressure across the planet. In spring, when the polar caps melt, the opposite process takes place.

Thus, fluctuations in atmospheric gases can be easily predicted. In this case, they all behaved as expected, and only one oxygen showed abnormal activity. The fact is that in the spring and summer, the oxygen level rises by about 30%, and in the fall it returns to normal. The amount of oxygen is growing from year to year, and astronomers cannot understand in any way what this is connected with.

The first version, related to interference in the rover equipment, astronomers sweep aside - a series of checks showed that everything is working fine. Another possibility is the decay of water and carbon dioxide, but this is not true either: water in the atmosphere of Mars is in great deficit, and CO2 decays too slowly to match the observed fluctuations.

By the way, the mysterious disappearance of methane may be the key to unraveling the mystery. The researchers do not rule out that the factor causing fluctuations in methane also affects oxygen. True, science does not know a single chemical process that could explain such displacements. What is this - the result of the vital activity of some unknown organic mass? Geological activity? Something lurking in the depths of the planet? We can only guess while scientists build theories and consistently test them using probes and rovers.

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