The Curiosity Mars Rover made by NASA continues to spark controversies back on Earth with each new discovery: The latest news sent home by the Rover show that there is a significant variation in the oxygen levels of the red planet’s surface, according to the portable chemistry lab of the Rover.
What was discovered?
Curiosity found that Mars’ atmosphere consists of about 95% CO2, 2.6% molecular nitrogen (N2), 1.9% argon (Ar), 0.16% molecular oxygen (O2) and 0.06% carbon monoxide (CO). While the levels of argon and nitrogen evolve predictably, according to a seasonal schedule, in concordance with the variation of carbon dioxide levels, the levels of O2 don’t follow any predictable pattern, increasing by as much as 30% over summer and spring.
Cause of the increase
The increased level of oxygen left scientists stunned: “The first time we saw that, it was just mind-boggling,” said Sushil Atreya, professor of climate and space sciences at the University of Michigan.
Some scientists even doubted the accuracy of the Rover’s readings, but it turns out that it worked fine all along.
One hypothesis says that molecules of carbon dioxide are breaking apart and forming oxygen, but there’s not enough solid proof to prove it.
Melissa Trainer, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said: “The fact that the oxygen behavior isn’t perfectly repeatable every season makes us think that it’s not an issue that has to do with atmospheric dynamics. It has to be some chemical source and sink that we can’t yet account for.”
This is perhaps the most intense mystery originating from the red planet. Something, a chemical reaction is producing oxygen out there and the fact that we don’t know what’s happening yet is a bit scary.