Duffy, Maria K. D.; Lewis, Stephen R. and Mason, Nigel J.
A multidisciplinary investigation of Martian atmospheric chemistry.
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For many years the Mars exploration program has focused on the mantra 'follow the water' as a means of unraveling key questions about the red planet such as whether the surface has ever supported life and what the ancient climate could have been like. However, with discoveries such as the seasonal plume of methane and sulfate-bearing soil, many have now turned to 'follow the chemistry' as being the true way to make progress. It is clear that the interaction of the atmosphere and the lithosphere and any potential biosphere will mark the atmosphere in ways we can only speculate about at present. Currently, there are many proposals for possible missions to monitor trace gases in the Martian atmosphere with a view to studying these possible interactions. The aim of these missions will be to constrain the possible reactions taking place in the Martian system and to finally allow us to begin answering some of these questions. The current project will investigate the chemistry of the Martian atmosphere through laboratory-based simulation and with computational experiments using a Mars General Circulation Model. Plasma discharge experiments have been used with Mars-like gas mixtures to gain insight into the possible reactions occurring in the atmosphere and their rates under different conditions. Eventually these experiments will be scaled up to use in the Open University Mars Simulation Chamber complete with Mars analogue soil and a Solar UV simulator. The data collected will be used in the Mars GCM to investigate how the trace species are transported around the planet from potential surface source regions and calculate their lifetimes and distributions in the atmosphere. It is hoped that these simulations will constrain some of the reactions occurring between trace species in the atmosphere and identify their sources and sinks be they geological or biological in origin. An understanding of the reactions involved is necessary to gain knowledge not just of Mars but other planets in our own solar system and beyond. To identify biosignatures such as ozone and methane on other worlds we must first understand their presence in the Martian system, a system for which detailed, high-resolution observation
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