About four billion years ago, Mars might have been a planet with blue skies, clouds, and bodies of water, far from how we know it today as the red, barren planet neighbor in the Milky Way. A new animation video released by NASA illustrates what the planet could have looked like before its transition into a dusty world.
The video was created by scientists working for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) using evidences gathered by the agency. The mission to the Red Planet will lift off from the Cape Canaveral on November 18. MAVEN will survey the upper atmosphere of the fourth planet from the sun and see how its climate changed the planet. It is expected to reach the orbit of Mars in September 2014.
According to NASA, liquid water cannot exist on Mars' surface today because of its surface temperature and its low atmospheric pressure. If there is water on the planet's surface it will just boil off or freeze because of its current settings.
"There are characteristic dendritic structured channels that, like on Earth, are consistent with surface erosion by water flows. The interiors of some impact craters have basins suggesting crater lakes, with many showing connecting channels consistent with water flows into and out of the crater. Small impact craters have been removed with time and larger craters show signs of erosion by water before 3.7 billion years ago. And sedimentary layering is seen on valley walls. Minerals are present on the surface that can only be produced in the presence of liquid water, e.g., hematite and clays," explained Joseph Grebowsky, project scientist of NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
The video starts with a flyby across a lake and up the Martian terrain. It also features streams of water and thick clouds on a blue sky background. The latter part of the production tries to show what could have happened and how the planet lost its atmosphere that made the planet seemingly habitable. From a warm and Earth-like environment, the setting shifted to a dry and dusty surrounding. The animation ends with MAVEN approaching the orbit of Mars.
Grebowsky also explained some theories of experts on how the planet became what it is like today.
"Hydrodynamic outflow and ejection from massive asteroid impacts during the later heavy bombardment period (ending 4.1 billion to 3.8 billion years ago) were early processes removing part of the atmosphere, but these were not prominent loss processes afterwards. The leading theory is that Mars lost its intrinsic magnetic field that was protecting the atmosphere from direct erosion by the impact of the solar wind," said Grebowsky.
The Conceptual Image Lab of NASA produced the intricate video.