"OSIRIS Mars true color" by ESA / CC BY-SA 3.0

Curiosity Finds Mysterious Oxygen Fluctuations on Mars

Nov 13, 2019

By Ryan F. Mandelbaum

NASA’s Curiosity rover sniffed out an unexpected seasonal variation to the oxygen on Mars, according to new research.

Curiosity has long been returning some appropriately curious results. After locating methane on the planet, studies from its spot in Gale crater found regular changes to the methane unexplainable by the environmental factors that scientists are already aware of. Now varying oxygen has joined methane in the Martian mysteries bucket.

Oxygen has shown “significant seasonal and interannual variability, suggesting an unknown atmospheric or surface process at work,” the authors write in the paper published today in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Mars, like Earth, is tilted on its axis of rotation. That means its northern and southern hemispheres experience seasons like Earth does, summer when the hemisphere points toward the Sun and winter when it points away from the Sun. Scientists have been using Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument to monitor the abundance of various molecules in the planet’s atmosphere and how they change with its seasons. Today, they released the result of five Earth years’ (three Mars years’) worth of data taking.

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