While now Mars is a big red deserted rock, it used to be a much different planet, harboring oceans and lakes. Let’s put aside the question ‘Was there life on Mars?’ and start thinking about how it got warm enough to melt all that ice.
What does current evidence say?
From what we gathered, there wasn’t enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of Mars to warm it up and cause a greenhouse effect which would rise its temperature above the freezing point of water. So it didn’t take just CO2. We speculate that maybe other gases contributed to warming up the red planet.
One possible explanation involves hydrogen gas. Although science tells us that two-atom molecules like hydrogen gas couldn’t act as greenhouse gases, it is possible that hydrogen absorbed infrared radiation as it bounced off other molecules. Another idea reminds us that when you combine hydrogen with carbon dioxide you end up with methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.
Curiosity comes to the rescue
In order to find out answers to these questions, we sent Curiosity to investigate. Right now, the robot is on what used to be a lake-bottom and it stumbled upon magnetite. The process to make magnetite in the lake’s mud would have produced hydrogen.
Researcher started to experiment with the data provided by Curiosity. Apparently there was a lot of basalt rock in the water, changing its chemistry to include more iron, magnesium and silica. The low levels of oxygen combined with a high pH, scientists believe that iron hydroxide would turn into magnetite in just a few days and this process would let out some hydrogen gas as a result.
A lot of CO2 changes the perspective, though. This would make the water more acidic, causing iron to prefer this gas to form a carbonate material. Through computer simulation, scientists developed an interesting idea: groundwater coming through the basalt bottom would combine with the lake’s water and the resulted pH would enable hydrogen gas to form.
Patrick Supernaw is the lead editor for Great Lakes Ledger. Patrick has written for many publications including The Huffington Post and Vanity Fair. Patrick is based in Ottawa and covers issues affecting his city. In addition to his severe hockey addiction, Pat also enjoys kayaking and can often be found paddling the Rideau Canal. Contact Pat here