News

Oxygen Change on Mars Leaves NASA Scientists 'Struggling to Explain' It

I know that everyone is really into the idea of living on Mars, but I'm not. Never mind the sad red landscape and subzero temps. The planet sounds straight up unpredictable, and no shade here, but I'd rather hang where breathing is a... guarantee. Nevertheless, I'm curious about the red planet.

Just months after NASA's Curiosity Rover reported an "unusually high" level of methane on Mars, the space agency found oxygen is also behaving "in a way that so far scientists cannot explain." Look, I'm not a scientist, but does that sound like a safe place to live to you? 

Basically, scientists found that the oxygen was not functioning like nitrogen and argon after "a predictable season pattern, waxing and waning in concentration in Gale Crater throughout the year relative to how much CO2 is in the air." Instead, levels rose 30% in the spring and summer before before dipping in 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 wrote in a statement. "The first time we saw that, it was just mind-boggling,” study co-author Sushil Atreya continued. 

According to the The New York Post, Mars' atmosphere is made up of 95% carbon dioxide, 2.6% molecular nitrogen, 1.9% argon, 0.16% oxygen, and 0.06% carbon monoxide. Earth stacks up a bit differently with 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.9% argon, and 0.03% carbon dioxide. 

"We’re struggling to explain this,” lead author Melissa Trainer said. "The fact that the 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." 

Maybe they'll figure it out -- the outlet reports that the rover “has a few more years before its nuclear power system degrades enough to significantly limit operations" -- or maybe they won't. 

h/t The New York Post


Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.
 Megan Schaltegger is a staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her @MegSchaltegger