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Space Mars Science

Solar Wind Rips Up Martian Atmosphere 101

Posted by Soulskill
from the that-atmosphere-had-it-coming dept.
IHateEverybody writes "Scientists have found evidence that the solar wind is ripping off chunks of the Martian atmosphere, which could possibly explain why Mars has such a thin atmosphere today. The chunks are being ripped up along 'magnetic umbrellas,' which are bubbles of magnetic fields which rise from the ground and extend above the Martian atmosphere. This is surprising because scientists previously thought that these magnetic umbrellas protected the Martian atmosphere. Now it looks like exactly the opposite might be true."
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Solar Wind Rips Up Martian Atmosphere

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  • bad news for earth? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bizzeh (851225) on Sunday November 23, 2008 @09:37AM (#25864133) Homepage

    if this is possible on mars, what different properties does earth have to stop our atmosphear from one day just disapearing?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 23, 2008 @09:46AM (#25864169)

      A magnetic field.

    • by SockPuppet_9_5 (645235) on Sunday November 23, 2008 @09:59AM (#25864209) Journal
      As I understand it, the Earth's magnetic field is healthy and extends up past the bulk of our atmosphere. The pushing from the solar wind deforms our atmosphere, but any ripples or other magnetic eddies are considerably smaller and that possible "ripping" of an Earth eddy would take place pretty far above the planet. I might guess that the Earth's magnetic field is consistent enough to prevent any large eddies from forming in the first place.
      • by WindBourne (631190) on Sunday November 23, 2008 @10:15AM (#25864273) Journal
        I would say that you are correct. The article is saying that the SMALL LIMITED mag fields on Mars allows, even encourages, the ripping. Our field encompasses the entire planet and prevents. I have wondered if the moon acting on our core is what makes it spin. As such, it would seem that pushing a large asteroid (perhaps ceres) around Mars would re-start its core spinning. Of course, that tech is out of our reach for a while, and we do not have enough data to know if something like that would work.
      • by hvm2hvm (1208954) on Sunday November 23, 2008 @10:25AM (#25864315) Homepage
        There is a small loss of atmosphere anyway from other factors. Still, the atmosphere is slowly regenerated by the combination of gaseous emissions (like from volcanoes) and their conversion to life sustaining gases by low order life forms (plankton or something like that). Those emissions are slowing down because the Earth is cooling down but the loss of atmosphere (by natural causes) is way beyond our foreseeable future (maybe more than the lifespan of the Earth).
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Tablizer (95088)

          There is a small loss of [Earth] atmosphere anyway from other factors. Still, the atmosphere is slowly regenerated by the combination of gaseous emissions...

          Save the Earth, eat a burrito!
               

          • by hvm2hvm (1208954)
            Hehe, I know you're joking but I am a little pedantic and have to say that the gases you would provide that way would not be helpful. They are not useful for life and very hard to convert back in life supporting gases.
      • by elashish14 (1302231) <profcalc4@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Sunday November 23, 2008 @11:57AM (#25864779)
        You're correct. Earth's protective magnetic field is generated by the molten iron core. When the planets were created, they all had the same molten core, but over time, they solidify. It takes longer in bigger planets because the core is bigger (duh). In Earth, the outer core remains molten while the inner core has solidified. Likewise, Venus, being a relatively big rocky planet also has an atmosphere that's protected by its magnetic field (hence the clouds on it surface). Mercury and Mars are smaller, their cores are likely less molten, so their magnetic fields are weaker and therefore they have no atmosphere. Eventually, Earth's core will also solidify so the atmosphere will get ripped away from here too.
        • by ultranova (717540)

          Earth's protective magnetic field is generated by the molten iron core.

          Actually, the pressure keeps it solid. What's molten is the mantle between the core and the surface.

          When the planets were created, they all had the same molten core, but over time, they solidify.

          From what I've understood, Earth's heart of iron is actually an iron asteroid/planetoid which collided with proto-Earth. That would make it likely unique within our solar system.

          Likewise, Venus, being a relatively big rocky planet also has an a

      • by sabernet (751826)

        I wonder what effect any potential polar reversal would have?

        From what I understand, the time interval between when N becomes S and S becomes N is still unknown. I wonder how long the interval would have to be for the eventual polar reversal of Earth to cause any serious effects to our atmosphere(aside from seeing armies of confused foul migrating North for the winter).

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by fredrik70 (161208)

          well, we know for a fact it occured quie a few times before, and our atmosphere is still here.

          Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] describes it quite well:

          "Because the magnetic field has never been observed to reverse by humans with instrumentation, and the mechanism of field generation is not well understood, it is difficult to say what the characteristics of the magnetic field might be leading up to such a reversal. Some speculate that a greatly diminished magnetic field during a reversal period will expose the surface of the earth

      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        So basically, you're saying Earth has its own set of deflector shields, and Mars doesn't? Awesome!

        When we get to Mars we should try to reverse the polarity of Mars' atmosphere. That will fix things. Or maybe a tachyon burst from the deflector dish!

    • by IvyKing (732111)
      As others have pointed out, the Earth's magnetic dipole field extends well past the atmosphere, so the reconnection events take place in vacuum, not the upper atmosphere as on Mars.

      The other reason that Venus and Earth have substantial atmospheres is that the gravitational fields for Earth and Venus are stronger than for Mars (or Mercury). The result is the escape velocity is much higher and atoms are much less likely to escape Earth's gravity than Mars' gravity.

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      if this is possible on mars, what different properties does earth have to stop our atmosphear from one day just disapearing?

      Our solid, healthy, and reliable financial institutions.
             

    • We have a large shield around our planet, which has a special, secret password. No one can ever strip aweay our atmosphere, no matter how much they suck or blow.

  • At least.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 23, 2008 @09:56AM (#25864193)

    At least it's not ripping up Uranus.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      At least it's not ripping up Uranus.

      I'm sorry, AC, but astronomers renamed Uranus in 2007 to end that stupid joke once and for all.

      It's now called Urectum.

  • at least... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pharago (1197161) on Sunday November 23, 2008 @10:03AM (#25864225)
    at least we may know what to fix if we *ever* were to terraform that big red rock
    • Or do we just leave that as an extra credit exercise for the students?

      • by meringuoid (568297) on Sunday November 23, 2008 @10:17AM (#25864279)
        I'm not certain it's actually necessary to fix it. The atmosphere would be stripped away on a timescale of millions of years. If you're capable of terraforming Mars to begin with, you're capable of replacing lost air faster than the Sun can strip it away. It's probably cheaper to do that than to rig up some enormous artificial magnetic shield.
        • by confused one (671304) on Sunday November 23, 2008 @10:26AM (#25864317)
          Well, rigging up some enourmouse artificial magnetic shield has another side benefit: It protects you from the charged particles in the solar wind. Humans don't react well to massive doses of radiation in the form of energetic alpha, beta, and protons.
          • by MadnessASAP (1052274) <madnessasap@gmail.com> on Sunday November 23, 2008 @10:41AM (#25864363)

            I dunno, the 3rd and 4th arm are great and come in handy all the time, but on the downside my 2nd head is WAYYY to talkative.

            • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Is that you, Zaphod Beeblebrox? Wait, no, sorry, my mistake. You mentioned four arms.

            • by Tablizer (95088)

              I dunno, the 3rd and 4th arm are great and come in handy all the time, but on the downside my 2nd head is WAYYY too talkative.

              But you have plenty of arms to sock it in the mouths.
                       

            • by RockWolf (806901)

              but on the downside my 2nd head is WAYYY to talkative.

              ...And can't spell.

            • Total Recall quote of the day.

              Benny: [to Mary, the three-breasted hooker] Baby, you make me wish I had three hands.

          • People are exposed to 2.5 tesla magnetic fields in conventional MRIs, and there are MRIs that go up to 9.3 tesla (even though that's a bit beyond what the FDA approves). There are scanners for animals that go up to 12 tesla. Even the least of these is well beyond anything the Earth generates. Clearly, however, magnetic fields are not as dangerous as has been assumed. At least, within reasonable limits.

            This is a localized magnetic field, however. If you were to set up a Faraday cage, so that you were enclose

            • You miss the point. You need a magnetic field. It deflects the ionized particles in the solar wind. I'm Not implying that humans can't do fine in a magnetic field. Im Am implying that humans won't do well when continuously exposed to rads of radiation. By the way, you don't need a particularly strong magnetic field. You just need a large one.
            • Oh, and if you combined all the "nuclear waste" we have ever generated, and implanted it into Mars' core, it would have negligeable affect.
          • by Abcd1234 (188840)

            Humans don't react well to massive doses of radiation in the form of energetic alpha, beta, and protons.

            That's what an atmosphere is for. Even if the earth's magnetic field vanished today, we'd be fine, as the atmosphere works to scatter high-energy radiation. After all, during magnetic field inversions, it's not like all life on earth spontaneously went extinct.

        • On the other hand, the loss of air is only one side-effect of the lack of magnetic field. The Earth's magnetic field offers signifigant protection from cosmic radiation that is very harmful to complex life as we know it.

          For an example of a planet that has managed to maintain (replenish faster than loss) an atmosphere without a magnetic field, see Venus.

    • by Shihar (153932)

      Where is that goatse link when you need it?

  • That Sol guy is a total dick.
  • "Oh no! Look, Billy! The sky is breaking apart!"
  • Well might not the end result of this be that Mars was once exactly like us?

    When you look at how long mankind has to evacuate the planet it seems this could shorten that time quite a bit. The core of the earth will cool long before the sun goes red dwarf.

    Maybe we should be looking into terraforming Venus.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MBGMorden (803437)

      The core of the earth will cool long before the sun goes red dwarf.

      I think you mean red giant (red dwarf is a main stage star - our sun is a yellow dwarf that will eventually become red giant then a white dwarf).

      Either way, the core of the Earth should be molten well past that event. Increasing temperatures (from various factors - both man made global warming but also the sun emits more and more heat as time goes on) are a far more serious concern than the atmosphere blowing away.

    • by IHateEverybody (75727) on Sunday November 23, 2008 @08:35PM (#25868611) Homepage Journal

      Well might not the end result of this be that Mars was once exactly like us?

      When you look at how long mankind has to evacuate the planet it seems this could shorten that time quite a bit. The core of the earth will cool long before the sun goes red dwarf.

      Maybe we should be looking into terraforming Venus.

      Most scientists think that Mars was once a lot more like Earth in that it had flowing, a thicker atmosphere, and possibly life.

      The sun won't go "red dwarf," it will turn into a red giant and will almost certainly swallow up Venus before it runs out of fuel and turns into a white dwarf. Long before any of that happens, the sun will have gotten hot enough to boil away Earth's oceans. The most common figures that I've seen is something like a 500 million to a billion years before the sun boils the oceans and makes Earth uninhabitable and five billion years before it turns into a red giant and swallows up Mercury and Venus. So we do have some time before we need to move.

  • Venus has 10,000 time the atmosphere of Mars and 90 times the earth. Yet no magnetic field protection and a ten times strong solar wind at that distance (r-squared divergence).
    For all three planets, the planetary outgassing ratye from the interior is not well known and could be a factor in replenishment.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by largesnike (762544)
      Well actually, we know that Venus was catastophically resurfaced a few hundred million years ago, because impact craters are evenly distributed accross the surface (according to the Magellan data), so the parts of the surface are all the same age. The outgassing from such an enormous event, is likely to be the current atmosphere, which the sun has been gradually eroding ever since.
  • So, Mars' magnetic umbrellas are sort of like credit swap derivatives, then???

  • scientists previously thought that these magnetic umbrellas protected the Martian atmosphere. Now it looks like exactly the opposite might be true

    Just who are these people, who get to keep their jobs and reputations after such "predictions"?

    What else are they predicting now? (Other than climate change, that is?)

  • We have not made a complete observation to know for sure what is transpiring with these bubbles. Mars is a somewhat fickle planeta, where magnetism may be weak in most areas, yet strong in some 'small' pockets, fluctuating. Also the mysteries of its two moons and their interactions with their parent planet. Life is not the only interesting thing we will discover about Mars. This is one strange planet!

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