Oxygen Found In Mars Upper Reaches, Announcement Of Life In Offing?
A four-decade search for oxygen in Mars' atmosphere ended on Tuesday thanks to a modified Boeing jet.
NASA announced it had found the life-sustaining chemical in the planet's upper reaches. However, there is no word on whether the Red Planet hosts any form of life.
Attempts to determine oxygen's presence have been on for some time with the Mariner and Viking missions without any avail. The latest success is attributed to SOFIA, a modified Boeing 747SP with a massive telescope on board, CNN reported.
"Atomic oxygen in the Martian atmosphere is notoriously difficult to measure," said Pamela Marcum, SOFIA project scientist.
SOFIA cannot fly beyond Earth but from 45,000 feet above our planet, it could detect oxygen presence in the mesosphere of Mars. At this height, there is little mistaking the Red Planet's atmosphere and moisture with that of our own, the scientist said.
"To observe the far-infrared wavelengths needed to detect atomic oxygen, researchers must be above the majority of Earth's atmosphere and use highly sensitive instruments, in this case a spectrometer. SOFIA provides both capabilities," Marcum added.
In its fourth year of observation, SOFIA, short for Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is scheduled to make 106 flights.
Among its many successes last year, SOFIA was able to study Pluto's atmosphere by flying into the faint shadow the dwarf planet had cast on Earth when it transited a distant star. The southern skies were observed from great heights, shedding light on star formation in Milky Way and nearby galaxies.
"SOFIA made the first detection of water vapor in gas ejecting from a newly forming star, protostar AFGL 2591, demonstrating the potential for SOFIA and its EXES (Echelon-Cross-Echelle Spectrograph) instrument," NASA said in a press release last year.