Sunday, May 08, 2016

Could a Supernova Have Wiped Out the Martian Atmosphere?

Did high energy astrophysical sources contribute to Martian atmospheric loss?


Atri et al


Mars is believed to have had a substantial atmosphere in the past. Atmospheric loss led to depressurization and cooling, and is thought to be the primary driving force responsible for the loss of liquid water from its surface. Recently, MAVEN observations have provided new insight into the physics of atmospheric loss induced by ICMEs and solar wind interacting with the Martian atmosphere. In addition to solar radiation, it is likely that its atmosphere has been exposed to radiation bursts from high-energy astrophysical sources which become highly probable on timescales of ~Gy and beyond. These sources are capable of significantly enhancing the rates of photoionization and charged particle-induced ionization in the upper atmosphere. Here, we explore the possibility of damage from Galactic Gamma Ray Bursts, nearby supernovae, encounter with dense interstellar clouds and extreme solar events. We use Monte Carlo simulations to model the interaction of charged particles and photons from astrophysical sources in the upper Martian atmosphere and discuss its implications on atmospheric loss.

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