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Data from Mars Express has found that the Martian upper atmosphere has far more water vapor than predicted.
“The vertical distribution of water vapour is a key factor in the study of Mars’ hydrological cycle, and the old paradigm that it is mainly controlled by saturation physics now needs to be revised,” said Luca Maltagliati [of the Laboratoire Atmosphères, Milieux, Observations Spatiales (LATMOS) in Guyancourt, France]. “Our finding has major implications for understanding the planet’s global climate and the transport of water from one hemisphere to the other.”
“The data suggest that much more water vapour is being carried high enough in the atmosphere to be affected by photodissociation,” added Franck Montmessin, also from LATMOS, who is the Principal Investigator for SPICAM and a co-author of the paper. “Solar radiation can split the water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen atoms, which can then escape into space. This has implications for the rate at which water has been lost from the planet and for the long-term evolution of the Martian surface and atmosphere.”