Mars was always too small to hold onto its oceans, rivers and lakes

Mars was doomed to desiccation by its small size, a new study suggests.

© Provided by Space Artist’s illustration of a Mars with Earth-like surface water. The Red Planet was a wet world in the ancient past.

Thanks to observations by robotic explorers such as NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers, scientists know that in the ancient past, liquid water coursed across the Martian surface: The Red Planet once hosted lakes, rivers and streams, and possibly even a huge ocean that covered much of its northern hemisphere.

But that surface water was pretty much all gone by about 3.5 billion years ago, lost to space along with much of the Martian atmosphere. This dramatic climate shift occurred after the Red Planet lost its global magnetic field, which had protected Mars’ air from being stripped away by charged particles streaming from the sun, scientists believe.

Related: The search for water on Mars (photos)

But this proximate cause was underlain by a more fundamental driver, according to the new study: Mars is just too small to hold onto surface water over the long haul.

“Mars’ fate was decided from the beginning,” study co-author Kun Wang, an assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a statement. “There is likely a threshold on the size requirements of rocky planets to retain enough water to enable habitability and plate tectonics.” That threshold is larger than Mars, the scientists believe.

The study team — led by Zhen Tian, a grad student in Wang’s lab — examined 20 Mars meteorites, which they selected to be representative of the Red Planet’s bulk composition. The researchers measured the abundance of various isotopes of potassium in these extraterrestrial rocks, which ranged in age from 200 million years to four billion years. (Isotopes are versions of an element that contain different numbers of neutrons in their atomic nuclei.)

Tian and her colleagues used potassium, known by the chemical symbol K, as a tracer for more “volatile” elements and compounds — stuff like water, which transitions to the gas phase at relatively low temperatures. They found that Mars lost significantly more volatiles during its formation than Earth, which is about nine times more massive than the Red Planet. But Mars held onto its volatiles better than did Earth’s moon and the 329-mile-wide (530 kilometers) asteroid Vesta, both of which are much smaller and drier than the Red Planet.

“The reason for far lower abundances of volatile elements and their compounds in differentiated planets than in primitive undifferentiated meteorites has been a longstanding question,” co-author Katharina Lodders, a research professor of Earth and planetary sciences at Washington University, said in the same statement. (“Differentiated” refers to a cosmic body whose interior has separated into different layers, such as crust, mantle and core.)

“The finding of the correlation of K isotopic compositions with planet gravity is a novel discovery with important quantitative implications for when and how the differentiated planets received and lost their volatiles,” Lodders said.

The new study, which was published online today (Sept. 20) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, and previous work together suggest that small size is a double whammy for habitability. Bantam planets lose lots of water during formation, and their global magnetic fields also shut down relatively early, resulting in atmospheric thinning. (In contrast, Earth’s global magnetic field is still going strong, powered by a dynamo deep within our planet.)

The new work also could have applications beyond our own cosmic backyard, team members said.

“This study emphasizes that there is a very limited size range for planets to have just enough but not too much water to develop a habitable surface environment,” co-author Klaus Mezger, of the Center for Space and Habitability at the University of Bern in Switzerland, said in the same statement. “These results will guide astronomers in their search for habitable exoplanets in other solar systems.”

That “surface environment” disclaimer is an important one in any discussion of habitability. Scientists think that modern Mars still supports potentially life-supporting underground aquifers, for example. And moons such as Jupiter’s Europa and Saturn’s Enceladus host huge, possibly life-supporting oceans beneath their ice-covered surfaces.

Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

Internet Explorer Channel Network
News Related


EU Parliament seeks legal clampdown on planet-warming methane emissions

By Kate Abnett © Reuters/Hannah Mckay FILE PHOTO: Methane bubbles are seen in an area of marshland at a research post at Stordalen Mire near Abisko BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The ... Read more »

Raspberry Pi announces first-ever price increase due to component shortages

Raspberry Pi CEO Eben Upton has announced his company’s first-ever price increase, and it’s all because of the global component shortages brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic currently affecting the ... Read more »

MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021): price, release date and everything we know

The Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) was revealed to the public during the Apple Unleashed event on October 18, powered by either the newly released 10-core M1 Pro or M1 ... Read more »

Man charged with murder of Sir David Amess

A 25-year-old man has been charged with the murder of Conservative MP Sir David Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on October 15th. Ali Harbi Ali, from ... Read more »

Boris Johnson attends NI centenary church service

Boris Johnson has attended a church service at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland’s formation. The Prime Minister was set to be joined by ... Read more »

South Korea has partial success with 1st launch into the space race

Hong Kong — South Korea had a partial success on Thursday in its attempt to join the global space race. The country successfully launched its first home-grown rocket, but while ... Read more »

Prince William and Kate are 'focused on having a high profile in US'

© Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo Prince William and Kate Middleton are ‘very focused on having a high profile in US’ after ‘their popularity took a dive because of ... Read more »

Nationals' demands for Liberals over climate change policy finalised, taken to Prime Minister Scott Morrison

© Provided by ABC NEWS The exact details of the Nationals’ demands will be kept confidential. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore) The Nationals have finalised their list of demands of the ... Read more »

Inaction on climate change imperils millions of lives, doctors say

Inaction on climate change imperils millions of lives, doctors say Climate change is set to become the “defining narrative of human health,” a top medical journal warned Wednesday – triggering ... Read more »

Facebook says it will pay French publishers for news content

FILE – In this March 29, 2018, file photo, the logo for Facebook appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York’s Times Square. Facebook says it has struck ... Read more »

New speed cameras to catch more Brisbane drivers in key tunnel

Speed cameras on Brisbane’s Legacy Way highway are about to get a makeover, in a new attempt to reduce crash numbers. NSW North Coast pummelled by giant hailstones Fixed speed ... Read more »

We have allowed mobile phones into our children's lives far too early

(Daniel Hambury) Take a look around you when you’re on the bus. Eventually, you’ll find yourself in the company of a small child in a pushchair. Chances are, the child ... Read more »

Analyst who called bitcoin's rebound says ether could hit $10,000

Bitcoin exploded to a new all-time high Wednesday just one day after the first-ever bitcoin-linked exchange traded fund (ETF) started trading on the New York Stock Exchange. The ProShares Bitcoin ... Read more »

Anti-vaxxers serve ‘legal documents' citing ‘Nuremberg Code' to NHS hospital staff

Anti-vaxx protesters have filmed themselves handing bogus legal papers to staff at an Essex hospital, accusing them of “crimes against humanity” for their work tackling Covid-19. The footage shows a ... Read more »

Orion: Nasa's Moon-ship is attached to SLS megarocket

Nasa's next-generation spaceship has been lifted onto the rocket that will take astronauts to the Moon this year or in early 2022. Earlier this week, the Orion spacecraft was moved ... Read more »

Richard Madeley condemned for ‘victim-blaming' GMB guest who was spiked during night out

Good Morning Britain host Richard Madeley has been accused of victim-blaming over his interview of a young woman who was spiked during a night out. Madeley and his co-host Susanna ... Read more »

What is a bomb cyclone? Pacific Northwest warned over approaching storm

The US Pacific Northwestern states of Washington, Oregon and California have been warned that a strong jet stream over the Pacific Ocean could be about to toss a “bomb cyclone” ... Read more »

Emmerdale releases first-look image of Priya Sharma heading into maze fire

Emmerdale has released a first-look image of Priya Sharma heading into a maze which has caught fire as “survival week” continues in the soap. Wednesday’s episode of the ITV programme ... Read more »

Former Britain's Got Talent Finalist Jonathan Goodwin Jokes About Being Near The ‘Brink' Of Death Following Horror Fall

Former Britain’s Got Talent finalist Jonathan Goodwin has spoken for the first time since he was hospitalised with serious injuries after a stunt went drastically wrong. The Welsh escapologist, who ... Read more »

British-made robot detained by Egyptian authorities over fears it was part of spy plot

Ai-Da is thought to be the world’s first robot capable of drawing people from real life (PA) A British-made robot artist which creates paintings using algorithms was detained for ten ... Read more »

#NetflixWalkout: Elliot Page joins streamer's employees as fallout over Dave Chappelle's special increases

Netflix employees are staging a protest in light of the backlash causd by Dave Chappelle‘s latest comedy special. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images) The controversy surrounding Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special The ... Read more »

'Act of terror': Man charged with murder of British lawmaker Amess

By Michael Holden © Reuters/TOBY MELVILLE Tributes to British MP Amess placed outside the Houses of Parliament, in London LONDON (Reuters) -British police charged a 25-year-old man on Thursday with ... Read more »

South Korea's First Domestically Made Rocket Fails to Deliver Payload Into Orbit

South Korea’s space agency launched its first domestically built rocket, Nuri, on October 21, but the planned deployment of a dummy payload into orbit did not go according to plan. ... Read more »

Speed up booster jabs to save Christmas, experts warn

© Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo Ministers were told to get their act together on Covid booster vaccines today by figures across the political spectrum as unofficial data suggested ... Read more »

IBAC airs Victorian Labor's dirty linen, giving Coalition sleaze a run for its money

Neat-haired, blue-jacketed Richard Garotti, mayor of Banyule City Council in Melbourne’s north, was in the online witness box of the Somyurek inquiry for two days this week — the unwilling ... Read more »

New drinks app ‘el Tab' offers Londoners four free drinks a night at bars across the capital

Bottoms up: bars including the Duchess of Dalston, above, are signed up to the app (Duchess of Dalston ) A new app putting up to £1000 behind the bar, seven ... Read more »

‘Everybody's excited': Amazon workers in Staten Island to file for union vote

Amazon workers plan to file for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board next Monday, after months of organizing and collecting over 2,000 union authorization cards from employees ... Read more »

The booster effect?

© Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo Britain may already be beginning to reap the benefits of its Covid booster vaccine drive, according to official data that will pile more ... Read more »

Elon Musk's Boring Company to build tunnel under the Las Vegas strip

© Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has won approval to build a 29-mile tunnel system underneath the Las Vegas strip. It will allow up to ... Read more »

Pfizer says its booster shot has 95.6% efficacy against COVID-19 amid the Delta variant

A health worker administers a dose of the Pfizer vaccine in Jerusalem. Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images Pfizer said its booster shot had 95.6% efficacy against COVID-19 caused by the Delta variant. ... Read more »

Onions tied to salmonella outbreak in 37 states

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) are investigating a salmonella outbreak in 37 states tied to whole, fresh onions. © Getty ... Read more »

Jamie Laing on being posh, embarrassed and really in love

Podcaster and Candy Kittens creator Jamie Laing chats about being embarrassingly posh on Made in Chelsea, causing a media sensation on Strictly Come Dancing, and what real love looks like ... Read more »

People 'should use their own judgment on wearing masks', says health minister

Boris Johnson wears a face mask during the Battle of Britain 81st Anniversary Service of Thanksgiving and Rededication at Westminster Abbey last month. (Getty) With COVID cases in the UK ... Read more »

Man pleads guilty over one-punch death of Adelaide grandfather

An Adelaide family is grappling with the thought they’ll never see the much-loved grandfather again. Frank Candido died nearly two weeks after he was coward punched by a man in ... Read more »

The Morning After: Will Facebook change its name?

So, will Facebook pull the trigger and change its name? Maybe it’s an attempt to dominate the conversation around the, ugh, metaverse, which has been around for years, perhaps to ... Read more »

Stars rally round Tilly Ramsay over bodyshaming comments

Giovanna Fletcher and Dr Alex George have supported Tilly Ramsay. (Getty/BBC/Getty) Stars including John Whaite, Ugo Monye, Dr Alex George, Giovanna Fletcher and Jason Manford have thrown their support behind ... Read more »

Russia's COVID Nightmare Spirals With a Viral Corpse and a Hospital Suicide Leap

via Telegram NIZHNY NOVGOROD—A gut-wrenching video has been circulating in Russia showing a dead COVID-19 patient on his hospital bed in the town of Novouralsk, apparently neglected by nurses and ... Read more »

All the best reactions to The Bachelorette Australia photoshoot episode 2021.

To catch up on all The Bachelorette Australia 2021 recaps and gossip, check out Mamamia’s recaps and visit our Bachelorette hub page. © Getty Images All the best reactions to The Bachelorette Australia ... Read more »

The Bachelorette: Telling clue that 'proves' who wins Brooke's heart

© Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo ‘Persian prince’ Darvid Garayeli has emerged as the early fan favourite on the latest season of The Bachelorette following his epic meeting with ... Read more »

Big changes coming in League of Legends' Preseason 2022 patch

(Photo: Riot Games) Big changes are coming to League of Legends (LoL) in Preseason 2022! In Patch 11.23, players can expect new items, runes, objective bounties, and two new dragons ... Read more »
On you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic