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Importance of the Atmosphere

Our atmosphere is important as part of the water cycle, to moderate global temperature and to protect the surface from harmful solar radiation.

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Imagine Earth with No Atmosphere

Imagine Earth with No Atmosphere

Source: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA02653
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Before Mariner 5 flew by Mars is 1965, humans thought that the red planet was a welcoming world with water and vegetation; maybe even more advanced life forms. Mars may once have been hospitable, but it isn’t today. What happened?

Why It Matters

Credit: NASA
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mars_atmosphere.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

The thin Martian atmosphere can be seen on the horizon [Figure2]

  • Early in the history of the solar system, Mars had liquid water that moved across the planet.
  • Currently Mars has a thin atmosphere; it is cold and has no obvious life.
  • If there is life on Mars, it is microbial and it lives under the soil.

Can You Apply It?

With the link below, learn more about Mars. Then answer the following questions.

  1. Why was Mars warm enough to have liquid water early in the history of the solar system?
  2. Why do scientists think Mars had a significant atmosphere 4 billion years ago?
  3. Which gases would have had to have been in the atmosphere and why?
  4. How did Mars lose its atmosphere and when?
  5. What is the evidence for the previous answer?
  6. How will the spacecraft MAVEN determine how much carbon dioxide was lost to space in the past 4 billion years?

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS; Source: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA02653; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: NASA; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mars_atmosphere.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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