Flying Observatory SOFIA detects Atomic Oxygen in Martian Atmosphere

May 9, 2016 15:15 IST

SOFIAAtomic Oxygen was detected in the upper layers of the Martian atmosphere known as Mesosphere. This presence of Atomic Oxygen for the first time since the last observation 40 years ago was detected by an instrument onboard the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).

Atomic oxygen affects how other gases escape Mars and therefore has a significant impact on the planet’s atmosphere.

The research was published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Findings of the detection

• Scientists detected only about half the amount of oxygen expected, which may be due to variations in the Martian atmosphere.

• To better understand these variations in the atmosphere of the Red Planet, scientists will continue to use SOFIA.

• These more recent observations were possible due to SOFIA’s airborne location, flying between 37000-45000 feet, above most of the infrared-blocking moisture in Earth’s atmosphere.

The advanced detectors on one of the observatory’s instruments, the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT), enabled astronomers to distinguish the oxygen in the Martian atmosphere from oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere.

The last measurement of the atomic oxygen in Martian atmosphere was diagnosed by Viking and Mariner missions of the 1970s.

Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)

• SOFIA is a Boeing 747SP jetliner modified to carry a 100-inch diameter telescope.

• It is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center.

• NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, manages the SOFIA program, science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

• The aircraft is based at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center's hangar 703 in Palmdale, California.

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