Selfie of Curiosity Mars rover on the prowl.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Earlier this month, NASA announced that scientists have a head scratching finding on Mars. There has been a baffling result from measuring the seasonal changes in the gases that fill the air directly above the surface of Gale Crater on Mars. That’s home base for the Curiosity Mars rover.

Over the course of three Mars years (or nearly six Earth years) the robot’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) inhaled the air of Gale Crater and analyzed its composition.

Credits: Melissa Trainer/Dan Gallagher/NASA Goddard

Oxygen has been observed to show significant seasonal and year‐to‐year variability, suggesting an unknown atmospheric or surface process at work.

Though Mars has the potential to generate significant oxygen release due to abundances of oxidants in/at its surface, the mechanisms by which O2 could be quickly generated and then quickly destroyed are completely unknown. Continued on-the-spot, experimental, and theoretical results may shed light on this intriguing observation.

Rutgers University Astrobiologist Nathan Yee.
Credit: Nick Romanenko

Implications for humans on Mars

Meanwhile, that data gathered by NASA’s Curiosity rover impacts the possibility of human exploration on the Red Planet.

“New data from NASA’s Curiosity rover indicates there might be some oxygen-forming chemicals absorbed in Martian soil that are behind fluctuations in oxygen levels throughout the seasons on Mars,” notes Rutgers astrobiologist, Nathan Yee.

Breathe and survive

“If scientists can extract oxygen-forming chemicals in the Martian soil, then perhaps humans could use that as a source of oxygen to breathe and survive there – and, more importantly, use it to burn rocket fuel for the return trip to Earth,” said Yee. “More research on the sources of oxygen will be vital for the potential of future human exploration on the Red Planet.”

Credit: Bryan Versteeg via Explore Mars

Yee is a professor of geomicrobiology and geochemistry at Rutgers–New Brunswick’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, and is a co-investigator at Rutgers ENIGMA, a NASA-funded research team focused on discovering how proteins evolved to become the catalysts of life on Earth.

For detailed information on the curious Curiosity finding, go to this paper — Seasonal Variations in Atmospheric Composition as Measured in Gale Crater, Mars –published on November 12 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. It can be found here at:

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