Through the results of using the new isotopic research method, astronomers concluded that the Martian rocks previously contained more volatile elements, including water, than at present, but lost them over time.
The scientists used mathematical methods, and they discovered that the loss of volatile elements is directly related to the size of the planet. And Mars, which is smaller than Earth, couldn’t hold water for very long, so there weren’t conditions right for complex life forms to evolve, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
It appears from remote sensing studies and analysis of Martian meteorites conducted in the eighties of the last century, that Mars was previously, like Earth, rich in water. Satellite instruments on the planet’s surface have captured wonderful images of a large lake basin, dry river valleys and flood channels.
In light of these studies and images, scientists have proposed several hypotheses for the reason for the disappearance of water on the planet. But scientists from Washington University in St. Louis, along with colleagues from Britain and Switzerland, believe that the main reason is that Mars is a small planet that cannot hold a large amount of water.
The researchers used to assess the presence, containment and distribution of volatile elements in different planetary bodies and 20 Martian meteorites, stable isotopes of potassium, which is associated with geochemical cycles with volatile compounds, including water.
The results showed that, during its formation stage, Mars lost a large amount of potassium and other volatile elements, more than Earth, but less than the Moon or the asteroid Vesta. The researchers discovered a direct relationship between body size and the isotopic composition of potassium.
According to the researchers, these findings are of great importance in the search for life on other planets as well.
“There is a limited size range for planets, which allows enough water to be retained to develop a habitable surface environment,” says researcher Klaus Mesger, from the Institute of Geology at the University of Bern. Therefore, these results will help astronomers in their search for habitable exoplanets in other planetary systems.
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