Rover Reveals Mars Is Losing Its Atmosphere

Very, very slowly over the past 4 billion years


The Mars rover Curiosity is doing more than channeling its inner tourist and snapping photos every chance it gets. Two new papers appearing in this week's issue of Science are the first to come out of the Mars Science Laboratory that talk about the planet's surface. Both papers say that Mars has been steadily losing its atmosphere over the past 4 billion years.

This isn't the first time that NASA has measured the concentration of gases in the Martian atmosphere. "There was really groundbreaking work back in the '70s with the Viking landers," Paul Mahaffy, the lead author behind one of the papers and a NASA scientist, told ABC News. "But those landers were a more primitive version of the thing that's landed on Mars now."

Curiosity measures gas directly from the atmosphere, as well as gases released from solids, using two different instruments that are a part of SAM (Sample Analysis on Mars). Specifically, they are calculating the ratios of different isotopes, elements that have the same number of protons, but differ in weight.