Oxygen's Mystery on Mars

Mysterious behavior of oxygen on Mars is a constant challenge for the scientists.

Oxygen's Mystery on Mars
Mars Atmosphere

Oxygen's Mystery on Mars 


Recently, scientists have found a strange thing regarding the oxygen levels on Mars. The Curiosity rover has been working for six years to measure the gases as they appear in different levels in different seasons. The level of oxygen increases in the spring and summer season in the Maitan atmosphere on this planet. As a consequence of this finding, the scientists are now focusing on solving the oxygen mystery. They will find out why the levels rise and fall during the year. 


The Unusual Measurements of Curiosity Rover's 

To measure the gas levels in the Martian atmosphere, Analysis at Mars (SAM) is an essential tool. The Curiosity rover uses this powerful tool to measure the levels of oxygen on Mars. According to the survey of the rover, 0.16% of the atmosphere was molecular oxygen. Another index of the tool shows an increase of oxygens. 30% oxygen rises in the summer and spring and a dramatic fall-down in the fall.  


"This pattern repeated each spring, though the amount of oxygen added to the atmosphere varied, implying that something was producing it and then taking it away," NASA said.


Oxygen's Mystery

Researchers are in the opinion that the Curiosity rover's measurements are perfect in every way. It can not give any misleading information. But they are not quite sure about the mysterious fluctuation of oxygen levels during the Martian seasons. If we consider the increase of oxygen, then a question pops on our mind, "Who is producing this oxygen?" Well, scientists still don't know the answer. 

While considering the increase of oxygen, scientists first assess the possibility of breaking up water molecules and producing oxygen in the atmosphere. But it is not possible because of the lack of adequate water on Mars. On the other hand, the fall of carbon dioxide can not be the reason as it takes too much time to fall apart.   

Among the other ones, one possibility may be the microbes. Perhaps, they can make oxygen during different parts of the year. Another option is that chemical processes that involve the soil, rocks or water are affecting atmospheric oxygen on the planet.

"We're struggling to explain this. The fact that oxygen behavior isn't perfectly repeatable every season makes us think that it's not an issue that has to do with atmospheric dynamics. It has to be some chemical source and sink that we can't yet account for," NASA's Melissa Trainer said.


Methane's Mystery

Scientists are also in the belief that the strange behavior of the Martian atmosphere has something to do with the unusual behavior of methane. Although methane constitutes 0.00000004% of the atmosphere (as per Curiosity report), they also notice a significant fluctuation of methane. The level of methane increases by up to 60% during the summer.   

"With the new oxygen findings in hand, Trainer's team is wondering if chemistry similar to what's driving methane's natural seasonal variations may also drive oxygens. At least occasionally, the two gases appear to fluctuate in tandem," NASA said.

Researchers assume that there must be a connection between the fluctuation of these two gases: oxygen, and methane. They also think 'something' that releases both gases into the Martian atmosphere. Finding out the source is an obvious challenge for scientists. It is the limitation of the Curiosity rover, and it can not help the research team in this case. 

What are other possibilities? 

A dramatic fluctuation in oxygen levels on Earth is not surprising at all as it has plenty of plants and trees. But, Mars is a desolate planet without having any flora. It can not prepare a suitable environment for the production and growth of a plant. The extreme temperatures and weather patterns are the reasons that act against the plants. So, plants can not survive here.  


But, there is a possibility of a new kind of plant on Mars, and it does not exist on Earth. They might be the reason behind producing oxygen in the warmer months. Scientists have not spotted the plant yet. They predict that the plant may be very tiny or microscopic. Further, it is also possible for that plant to survive the harsh conditions on Mars. It may not look or function like a typical plant on Earth. We hope that researchers will continue their exploration of the planet to provide us with more answers on this mystery.