Modern Martian atmosphere is about 100 times thinner Earth, but scientists believe that in the past it was much closer, which provided the milder climate of the planet. Data about the atmosphere, the instrument collected SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars), will help scientists understand the reasons why Mars lost its ancient thick atmosphere.
The device SAM, which includes laser spectrometer, mass spectrometer and gas chromatograph, made the first few “puffs” at concentrations of sand and soil in the Martian Gale Crater, which NASA scientists have dubbed “rock’s Nest. Here rover stopped to collect and analyze the first samples of soil, reports RIA “Novosti” .
Initial findings suggest that the Martian atmosphere is 5% more heavy isotopes (atoms of options with more neutrons in the nucleus) of carbon, a component molecule of carbon dioxide, compared to concentrations that must have existed in the era of the formation of Mars.
This means that the “dispersion” of the atmosphere was in the first place in its upper layers – that’s why “survive” more heavy carbon atoms, which are more in the lower layers.
SAM instrument data also showed an increased proportion of heavy isotopes of argon, which corresponds to the data obtained in the study of Martian meteorites.
In addition, SAM first tried to make accurate measurements of the amount of methane in the atmosphere. Initial findings indicate that in the vicinity of the crater Gale virtually no methane. Laser spectrometer measured the concentration of this gas was less than a few parts per billion.
Methane on Mars is of great interest to scientists because its presence may indicate the existence of life. Previous data from orbiters showed that methane is in the atmosphere of Mars and its concentration experiences seasonal fluctuations.
All these data were obtained by laser spectrometer TLS, in turn, the mass spectrometer in the SAM determine the full composition of the atmosphere. In the future, the researchers plan to regularly conduct these measurements to determine seasonal variations.