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Atomic Oxygen Detected In Martian Atmosphere (cnn.com) 132

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNN: Atomic oxygen has been detected in the atmosphere of Mars, according to NASA. The atoms were discovered in the Martian mesosphere, the upper layers of the red planet's atmosphere. This discovery will enable researchers to have a better understanding of the elusive Martian atmosphere. Atomic oxygen can help scientists determine atmospheric erosion and how other gases escape Mars. It also affects the radiative cooling from the carbon-dioxide bands in the Martian thermosphere, which is above the mesosphere. The atomic oxygen discovery was made using an instrument on board the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA. SOFIA is a Boeing 747SP jet that has been modified for research purposes to carry a 100-inch diameter telescope. Using the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies, known as GREAT, allowed researchers to distinguish between oxygen from our atmosphere and that of the Martian atmosphere. They discovered half the amount of atomic oxygen expected, most likely due to variations in the atmosphere itself, and scientists will continue to use SOFIA to study the Martian atmosphere.
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Atomic Oxygen Detected In Martian Atmosphere

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  • by lesincompetent ( 2836253 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2016 @03:39AM (#52089347)
    Quick! Send in the homeopathic astronauts!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why do people think colonizing Mars is a viable option? I ask this as a serious question. To my knowledge, the core of Mars is no longer molten. Earth's core gives rise to the magnetic field, which is essential to blocking out harmful radiation from the sun and prevents the atmosphere from being stripped. If Mars doesn't have this protection, it's going to be severely inhospitable to life and it seems like any atmosphere would inevitably be stripped. I just don't see how Mars is a viable place to live. Sure

    • Re:fp (Score:5, Informative)

      by ledow ( 319597 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2016 @04:00AM (#52089415) Homepage

      Because Venus sure as hell isn't any better (92 times the atmospheric pressure, 400 degrees hotter, sulphuric acid clouds, etc.) even if it is closer, and Mars is further from the Sun than Earth (1.5 AU instead of 1 AU).

      Hence it's the nearest sensible suggestion and we have to deal with radiation on ANY long space trip anyway because there's not much like Earth's protection anywhere else. If we can't cope with the radiation on Mars, we might as well just give up now.

      • Re:fp (Score:5, Funny)

        by religionofpeas ( 4511805 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2016 @04:06AM (#52089433)

        Because Venus sure as hell isn't any better

        If only there was a suitable planet between Mars and Venus....

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by ledow ( 319597 )

          There was.

          Then we started to turn the clouds sulphuric and potentially initiated runaway greenhouse effects which started to turn it into an inhospitable barren desert with un-survivable atmospheric heat.

          Or was that Venus again, I forget?

          • If people aren't interested in fixing this planet, there's not much hope that they'll do better on Mars or Venus.
            • If people aren't interested in fixing this planet, there's not much hope that they'll do better on Mars or Venus.

              The purpose of going to Mars isn't about survival of the species. Mars is far more dangerous to life than what we have caused on this planet. No, the purpose of going to Mars is to be able to exploit any resources that planet may have. Having a colony there is to get public buy-in.

          • Dude, you're channelling Sagan. I love it

          • Re:fp (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Dcnjoe60 ( 682885 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2016 @11:27AM (#52091173)

            There was.

            Then we started to turn the clouds sulphuric and potentially initiated runaway greenhouse effects which started to turn it into an inhospitable barren desert with un-survivable atmospheric heat.

            Or was that Venus again, I forget?

            It would be far easier to colonize the oceans on this planet than the surface of Mars.

          • And, after whatever we do to it, Earth will be the most hospitable place in the Solar System, and it won't be close.

      • Re:fp (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2016 @05:17AM (#52089595) Homepage

        Because Venus sure as hell isn't any better (92 times the atmospheric pressure, 400 degrees hotter, sulphuric acid clouds, etc.)

        Venus is far better than Mars. Specifically, Venus's cloudtops - say, 54km altitude, 70 latitude (poleward might be even better, but you start facing more risk from the polar vortices, so we'll just compare 70). Earth by comparison will be equatorial, and Mars will be surface-average.

        Gravity (earth relative): Earth: 1.0; Mars: 0.38; Venus: 0.9

        Air pressure (atm): Earth: 1.0; Mars: 0.006; Venus: 0.5

        Temperature (avg, C): Earth: 26; Mars: -30; Venus: 31

        Daily variation (C): Earth: 4-30; Mars: 90; Venus: 15

        Day length: Earth: 24; Mars: 24.5; Venus: 48

        Ability to relocate / explore new terrain: Earth: moderate; Mars: poor; Venus: high

        Overhead radiation shielding mass (meters H2O equivalent): Earth: 10,3; Mars: 0.36; Venus: 5.2

        Magnetic field: Earth: 25-65uT, intrinsic; Mars: induced, 20-40nT MPR, 5-20nt magnetosheath; Venus: induced, 40-80 nT MPR, 10-40nT magnetosheath

        Health hazards: Earth: those humans evolved to; Mars: 1) Fine, abrasive electrostatic dust, 2) silicosis; 3) perchlorates; 4) hexavalent chromium; 5) other chemical hazards; Venus: 1) Corrosive acid mists; 2) hydrogen fluoride; 3) probably others of relevance

        Other local hazards: Earth: those humans evolved to; Mars: marsquakes, landslides, dust storms, probably others. Venus: poorly understood - lightning (although we don't know at what altitude), gusts/shear (probably Earthlike, but poorly quantified), icing (probably not, but maybe), possibly others. Needs more study, but Mars gets the lion's share of the planetary exploration budget and everything else competes for the scraps.

        Delta-V to habitable area from LEO (km/s, aerocapture assumed): Earth: 0; Mars: 4.7; Venus: 4.2

        Delta-V from habitable area to LEO (km/s, aerocapture assumed): Earth: 9.8; Mars: 10.0; Venus: 15.5

        Transit time (months): Earth: 0; Mars: 9; Venus: 5

        Launch window frequency (months): Earth: 0; Mars: 25; Venus: 19

        Landing difficulty: Earth: moderate (dense atmosphere, oceans to land in, compacting soil, readily available rescue); Mars: hard (reversed conditions of Earth): Venus: easy (no landing at all; your landing ellipse is "a large chunk of the planet")

        Solar energy (29% triple-junction W/m): Earth: 290; Mars: 45; sometimes almost none; Venus: 400

        Capturable wind energy: Earth: moderate; Mars: effectively none; Venus: high

        Diversity / value of resources: Earth: moderate (that which we're used to); Mars: probably less than Earth, but not "poor"; Venus: the planet acts as a natural refinery, baking / dissolving minerals from rocks and redepositing them in other forms; surface appears to be highly enriched in "incompatible elements" (many of which are rare and valuable on Earth) and the planet is highly enriched in deuterium.

        Accessibility of resources: Earth: moderate (that which we're used to); Mars: like Earth, but hindered by mobility and the difficulty of removing overburden; Venus: mixed high/low; a large resource base is available to be drawn directly from the atmosphere and which can be distilled /decomposed by simple heating/cooling (for example, 85% H2SO4 -> H2O + O2 + SO2) - the list of known/likely elements in the clouds is very long, even involving significant iron in the form of iron chlorides). However, surface access requires heat-tolerant phase change balloons (the high atmospheric density makes "dredging" with the same fan used for maneuvering a reasonable approach)

        Venus is grossly underappreciated as a destination for human settlement, and for exploration in general. Normal Earth air is its own lifting gas. Rather than living in a cramped pressure vessel, colonists would be living in an expansive, bright space perfect for cultivation. Don't like one of your coworkers? Go hang your "room" from a catenary cable on the opposite side of the habita

        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          Note: my apologies for Slashdot eating the degree signs and exponents in the above post :P

          • No worries, great post.

            As far as the plants, wouldn't it just be easier with those kinds of solar radiance to just use grow lights in an enclosed room? That way you can better control the day/night cycle and the color of the light, and it isn't like you are lacking for power resources on Venus.

        • A significant difference between Mars and Venus is that we can land someone on the former before terraforming it. It's quite possible to envisage us colonizing Mars before its terraformed too.

          Venus has some nice aspects, notably a surface gravity that's in Earth's ballpark, but until we can deal with the fact that virtually anything we drop into it is going to dissolve within minutes, perhaps even seconds, assuming it doesn't melt first, and assuming it's not enclosed in something strong enough to preven

          • by Rei ( 128717 )

            I can only gather from your post that you didn't actually read mine, given that you seem to think that the conversation is about living on the surface of Venus.

            • I did read yours. I'm explaining why Venus is not likely to the target of colonists, not why your plan isn't technically feasible.
              • Re:fp (Score:4, Interesting)

                by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2016 @12:29PM (#52091641) Homepage

                I have trouble reconciling your post with you having read mine. You wrote:

                A significant difference between Mars and Venus is that we can land someone on the former before terraforming it ... until we can deal with the fact that virtually anything we drop into it is going to dissolve within minutes, perhaps even seconds, assuming it doesn't melt first, and assuming it's not enclosed in something strong enough to prevent it from being crushed before it's melted and dissolved, it's not a planet that's going to capture any proto-colonists' imagination. .

                My post has nothing to do with colonizing Venus's surface. Nothing to do with the high temperatures there. Nothing to do with the high pressures there. To a Venus colony, the surface is only secondary - for exploration and low-throughput collection of valuable / low quantity minerals. Both the living area and the main source of raw materials is the atmosphere itself.

                An early to mid-stage Venus colony doesn't even need a surface probe.

                Also, what you wrote is hyperbole. There are plenty of materials that tolerate Venus's environment well. Two popular ones these days are PTFE and vectran. VEGA used PTFE, although modern variants involving copolymerization with for example PPVE (Teflon NXT) or HFP (Teflon FEP) perform better in a lot of key aspects. VEGA also wasn't reinforced with a high tensile ripstop; the PTFE itself was loadbearing and the balloon superpressure, which is obviously not a scalable solution (it was more like a party balloon than a blimp ;) ).

                It's quite possible to envisage us colonizing Mars before its terraformed too.

                That is precisely what I was writing about, colonizing Venus before terraforming it.

                If your issue is with people's mistaken perceptions about Venus what a colony on Venus would be like, that's indeed something I seek to change. People tend to think of Venus as its surface. But the habitable area is the middle cloud layer.

                • OK, so instead of acknowledging that I wasn't trying to critique your post on technical grounds, you're digging in.

                  Your post was the equivalent of "The Zune is technically superior because X, Y, and Z, so people will flock to it.".

                  My post was the equivalent of "OK, but people like the iPod because of Q, and we can't do Q on a Zune, so it's not going to become popular."

                  You're now complaining that I didn't address why the Zune is technically superior. And AFTER I POINTED OUT that I never addressed whic

                  • by Rei ( 128717 )

                    I appreciate my posts are often opaque and I have great difficulty being understood from time to time

                    If you're finding this to be a recurring problem, then you might want to consider that perhaps the problem is not other people.

                    We're going to Mars because we can land on it and colonize it today, without terraforming it.

                    And the same thing applies to Venus, only even easier - plus the added convenience that you don't actually have to literally land. Once again, I'm failing to see why you keep making this s

          • So, you are saying no one would want to live on the Cloud city of Bespin, but in domes on Mars (or caves which is the better solution). Personally, I think the Cloud city of Bespin is a great idea, and I would volunteer to be the computer guy on the mission. :)

        • Venus is far better than Mars

          Venus is interesting, but I have a hard time rating it 'better'. More specifically:

          Health hazards: Earth: those humans evolved to; Mars: 1) Fine, abrasive electrostatic dust,

          I would assume Martian dust isn't quite as problematic as Lunar dust is, since the former gets moved around more and hence has fewer sharp edges.

          3) perchlorates; 4) hexavalent chromium;

          You're not supposed to stick Martian soil in your mouth.

          Landing difficulty: Earth: moderate (dense atmosphere

          • Re:Ok, I'll bite. (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2016 @10:07AM (#52090533) Homepage

            I would assume Martian dust isn't quite as problematic as Lunar dust is, since the former gets moved around more and hence has fewer sharp edges.

            3) perchlorates; 4) hexavalent chromium;

            You're not supposed to stick Martian soil in your mouth.

            Martian and lunar dust have both similarities and differences. Martian dust particles are finer, athough it doesn't make them less hazardous. Despite attempts to minimize it, some exposure to the dusts will be inevitable; it's fine, ubiquitous and sticks to everything. It's well recognized as a significant hazard in mission design. One hazard of martian dust over lunar dust is that it appears to contain significant more chromium, and it's often hexavalent (a highly toxic form rarely found in nature on Earth). A number of other compounds such as arsenic appear to be of relevant risk as well.

            Yes ... but fail at landing, and you'll plummet into a 450 degree C hellhole. A rough landing on Mars might kill you, a rough landing on Venus kills you before you hit the surface.

            Expecting to survive a crash landing on Mars is far beyond positive thinking.

            The landing processes on both planets start out roughly the same. But the processes on Venus end before the hardest parts of a Martian landing end. Once you're down to under 100m/s or so on Venus, you're ready to start with deployment**. Once you're down to ~100m/s on Mars, you still have the part that's most likely to kill you remaining.

            ** - Although any type of reentry system works, a ballute reentry seems particularly well-suited for Venus, as it give you an initial inflation of warm, light gases. Ballute reentry has been proposed on a number of Venus proposed Venus probes, but so few Venus probes ever get funded due to Mars' domination in the budgeting process.

            And Mars has quite a bit of water. More than Venus, probaly.

            Not probably - it does. But it's not in the atmosphere. It's frozen in permafrost, mixed with sand and gravel and contaminated with a good number of toxic substances. And Martian backhoes aren't exactly dime-a-dozen / low-maintenance objects.

            Venus's water for a colony comes from the mists. There are two potential sources: 1) direct absorption, and 2) condensation.

            1) The habitat requires propulsion no matter what. This is because in addition to the strong zonal winds that comprise the superrotation, there are weaker meridional winds that would cause a craft to drift from its desired location. While the zonal winds are too strong to overcome (nor would you want to), the meridional winds are nothing particularly challenging for an airship. An aircraft under propulsive load will have a constant stream of air moving past it - fastest directly in the propeller wash. Hence, the best way to get lots of mist along lots of surface area is to handle steering with a flexible windsock-style thrust vectoring system comprised of permeable tubing for direct absorption, and/or hydrophilic collection/drainage surfaces (see #2). Hence, the collection system is little added mass over the base propulsion system. In the case of absorption, the absorption fluid would be weak H2SO4.

            The ideal situation involves large volumes of air moving at (relatively) low speeds. This means a large propeller. Hence, the ideal design for launch on a mid-sized rocket involves a propeller with two 6m folding blades stowed vertically in the center of the packed habitat during launch and cruise, rather than multiple smaller propellers stacked horizontally. A large prop is also more efficient.

            2) Direct collection on the envelope. While the original Vega data was interpreted as there being no condensation/rain on the balloons, some more recent work has challenged that view, suggesting that it indicates progressively increasing mass loadings as moisture collects, then peaking as runoff rates matched collection rates. This is intere

            • by lgw ( 121541 )

              The habitat requires propulsion no matter what.

              I'm curious where your 48-hour day came from. Is there a wind band that actually moves that fast? The propulsion is to stay in the band?

              The nice thing about a floating city is the lift is passive (though I guess you trade the dangers of living in a pressure vessel on Mars for living on a pressure vessel on Venus), but very fast winds seems like they'd have some very energetic turbulence, which is less good. It would be nice if the propulsion could be down for repairs without that being a crisis.

              As far as

              • by Rei ( 128717 )

                I'm curious where your 48-hour day came from.

                Venus's diameter (at height) at 70 degrees/54km latitude divided by VIRTIS and VERA data on zonal winds at 70 degrees.

                Winds do drop off as one approaches the poles, but not as fast as the radius of travel diminishes, so the day length shortens.

                Is there a wind band that actually moves that fast?

                Yes. Venus's atmosphere undergoes "superrotation", in that it rotates significantly faster than Venus's surface. It's sort of like having a planetwide jet stream (althou

                • by lgw ( 121541 )

                  the two main means for this (without discharging mass and the like) is to have an ammonia-water phase change envelope located within the ballonets, against the outer wall (to avoid the risk of ammonia permeation into the living envelope).

                  That's very cool (so to speak).

                  Very, very hard to sink.

                  Sure, but it would be a serious emergency. And patching a small tear somewhere on the main balloon doesn't sound like fun work (starting with finding it). I guess beyond a certain scale you'd be doing it from the inside, at least.

                  You may note that Earth's jet streams are also very fast, yet they're popular for passenger jet travel. And they're far closer to the surface.

                  Good point, though I was more thinking about storms. Earth certainly gets storms energetic enough to tear apart anything flying, though I have no clue how high up on Venus you have to be before that stops being a worry.

                  your propulsion is down all night every night

                  That sounds a lot safer - dep

                  • by Rei ( 128717 )

                    Good point, though I was more thinking about storms. Earth certainly gets storms energetic enough to tear apart anything flying, though I have no clue how high up on Venus you have to be before that stops being a worry.

                    Storms are driven by convective potential energy, not how fast the bulk of the winds are moving relative to a surface 50km away. :) Just like how an aircraft flying within a fast-moving jet stream on Earth is usually more stable than flying lower down in the atmosphere. Most of Venus's atmo

        • Space nutters are ridiculous. You are going to live in the acid clouds on Venus? In 300kph winds? Christ.
          • Space nutters are ridiculous. You are going to live in the acid clouds on Venus? In 300kph winds? Christ.

            They'll make pretty good time though.

          • by Rei ( 128717 )

            Wind speeds are only relevant to someone anchored to a fixed point. Venus's zonal winds are evenly moving air masses. There's still convective systems within them like on Earth, but it's anything but hundreds of kph shear.

            Also, you overstate the velocity for the target altitude / latitude.

            As for your "acid clouds" comment, I have to wonder if you've actually read what I've written. Incredulity is not a counterargument.

            • You are right. A 300kph wind doesn't do anything to a plane for example. Venus's winds only blow in one direction, evenly. Christ. I've read what you have written. I'll bet you don't think acid is an issue either. It won't damage anything over long periods of time. You have proven that in your lab. Space nutters.
              • by Rei ( 128717 )

                A 300kph wind doesn't do anything to a plane for example

                You meant sarcasm, but you're precisely correct. Earth's jet streams are upwards of 400kph. Airplanes deliberately fly in them whenever possible.

                As multiple people have pointed out to you, you're mixing up wind speeds relative to the surface with turbulence. Venus has high wind speeds relative to its (almost stationary) surface. It does not have high turbulence (as far as we've sampled thusfar) in it. The speed of the air mass relative to a surfac

        • Although the atmosphere of Venus above a floating station would be a much better radiation shield than the Martian atmosphere, that missing 5m of water equivalent would still present a problem, and using regolith as shielding would not be an option. Neither would bringing the 5m of water, or its shielding equivalent in something denser, along be viable, because you would then have a lead balloon. We would have to do something like generate a strong, local magnetic field.

          Anyway, kudos for the detailed analys

          • by Rei ( 128717 )

            No, actually it doesn't. HAVOC has studied this, various astrobiology-potential papers have studied this, etc - I can point you to some if you'd like. The HAVOC lead author is fond of pointing out that there are places in Canada that would have a higher radiation exposure than their astronauts would be exposed to ;) A colony on Venus doesn't need added radiation shielding like one on Mars or the Moon does.

            (I'm not actually much of a fan of the HAVOC proposal... but it is applicable in this case)

        • by Anonymous Coward

          You forgot the main benefit of Mars which is the oxygen generators installed there by aliens millennia ago.

        • Why don't you explain to us there merits of having your hand chopped off vs your foot?
      • What surprises me about the whole concept of terraforming ANYWHERE is that long, long before we have the industries and technologies to terraform anywhere, we'll have to have indefinitely-stable human habitats in space. At which point, why bother with planets?

        YOU might like to feel the wind in your hair as you lay in the sunlight. If you bring them up in a habitat on an asteroid (say, delivering another petatonne of water to Mars from Saturn), they will look at you as if you are insane when you talk about

    • From a practical standpoint, colonizing the moon makes more sense than Mars. But humans are not practical animals, and they find Mars more interesting.

      • No-one is seriously planning to colonise mars right now. The plan is to get some humans there, have them do lots of Science Stuff, and bring them back again.

        Colonisation, lunar or martian, has a serious difficulty: Cost. It would dwarf the ISS. Creating a self-sustaining colony on either body would, without doubt, be the single most expensive project in all of human history to date. Who is going to foot the bill?

  • An encouraging information. Man is getting closer and closer to moving to Mars.
  • Ogilvy puts the chances at a million to one.

  • Colonizing now is easy: we just need to get the atomic oxygen to bind to each other. I will be living on Mars in 10 years, tops.
    • Sorry, but the mentally deficient and condescendingly pessimistic won't be invited when the colony ship is sent. So, it looks like your chances are zero of ever leaving the planet, since no one wants to be in such close proximity to you.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    That's just Marvin the Martian testing the Illudium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator

  • 1. Need an earthlike magnetic field. This would be the hard part. HUGE energy requirements, but without a magnetic field the gravity is insufficient to hold an atmosphere. (we lucked out with our built in field generator on earth)

    2. Need H2O... Enough water on a planetary body with a magnetic field to retain any water vapor, along with planetary rotation and energy from the sun will start the climate cycle. The amount of water added will need to be equal to the current mass. (but, hey we almost d

    • 1. No problem. Just bring some magnets and put them in the center of the Planet.
      2. No problem. Just dig the ice up and melt it.
      3. No problem. I'm sure humans will be around in several thousand years.

      Signed, Space Nutter
      • LOL,

        I was thinking an old 10 penny nail and some copper winding connected to a couple radio shack solar cells would be magnetic enough.

        I don't think you understood my point about adding water... Digging it up wouldn't change the mass of the planet... Adding the equivalent of the current planetary mass should be just about right. (hence the reference to needing a God like being? If we could somehow borrow one of the ice moons presently orbiting our gas giants it would be a start)

        Cloudy, but warm by the B

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Atomic oxygen in the martian mesosphere and upper atmosphere is old news: as said in the article it was done 40 years ago.
    Mars Express and Maven observe atomic in the martian upper atmosphere oxygen daily, and with a much greater resolution than Sofia. In addition, the observation of the NO nightglow is linked to atomic oxygen in the mesosphere.
    It is interesting to have a direct detection of mesospheric Martian O with Sofia (the observation with NO is indirect and therefore has uncertainties due to model de

  • I saw a documentary where the rockets were powered by fuel extracted from Martian atmosphere. If the atmosphere already has oxygen the fuel will all be burned off. So hope the oxygen is not much. The documentary was superfantastic, actually. They were growing potatoes in Mars!
  • by tinkerton ( 199273 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2016 @10:42AM (#52090769)

    I hope it doesn't explode.

    • In our atmosphere free oxygen is actually bonded to another oxygen atom and is called diatomic oxygen. Atomic oxygen is just a single atom and is more reactive than diatomic oxygen.

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