JWST To Study The Loss Of Water On Mars

Image source: Kevin M. Gill / Flickr

Once it is launched, scientists will use the James Webb Space Telescope to investigate the loss of water on Mars. The Red Planet was been the center of interest lately, as more plans to colonize it emerge. However, as water is one of the essential conditions for life, scientists need to find out why there has been such a loss of water on Mars throughout its 4.5 billion-years of existence.

It is believed that a long time ago, the Red Planet had an ocean which was as deep as the Mediterranean Sea. However, Mars started losing its atmosphere, and with that, it lost most of its ocean which drifted into space. The rest of the water is frozen in the ice caps of the planet.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is supposed to be a successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope, and, if it isn’t delayed again, it is expected to be launched in 2019. During the first years of its operation, the James Webb Space Telescope will be studying the loss of water on Mars, as the Red Planet will be visible to Webb between May and September 2020.

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“Webb will return extremely interesting measurements of chemistry in the Martian atmosphere,” Heidi Hammel, a planetary astronomer and executive vice president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. “And most importantly, these Mars data will be immediately available to the planetary community to enable them to plan even more detailed Mars observations with Webb in future cycles.”

Hammel will lead the telescope’s observations of Mars under a Guaranteed Time Observation (GTO) project. The telescope will observe the planet followed with the results of examining the loss of water on Mars from previous years, as well as its changing environment. One of those results came with NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, which started examining the Red Planet in 2014. The mission looked into the rate of atmospheric loss today. One year later, NASA published results coming from several telescopes which worked on measuring the atmospheric ratio of “normal” to “heavy” water molecules on Mars over the course of different seasons and on different locations.

Water consists of hydrogen and oxygen. However, it’s worth mentioning that hydrogen is available in different forms, or better known, isotopes. Aside from the regular hydrogen atom, which consists of one electron particle, and one proton particle located in the nucleus, there is also a heavier version of hydrogen. It’s called deuterium and aside from one proton, the nucleus also houses one neutron.

According to the research from 2015, deuterium remained on Mars, as it is heavier compared to the hydrogen that drifted into space, NASA noted in a video from 2015.

Scientists also studied the Red Planet with the W.M. Keck Observatory, the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope. The findings showed that the polar caps of the Red Planet have a lot of deuterium inside of it, which also supports the previous research that suggests that deuterium remained on the planet, unlike the lighter hydrogen. The ratio of frozen water on Mars is of 1 hydrogen molecule to 400 deuterium molecules.

According to the statement, the Webb telescope will continue where the normal-water and heavy-water measurements of the other telescopes stopped, and will use its infrared observations to provide more info on what caused the loss of water on Mars. The telescope will study the normal water to heavy water ratio during different seasons, times and locations on Mars.

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