Some of Mars' Missing Carbon Dioxide May Be Buried

Via ScienceDaily 9 maart 2011.

Rocks on Mars dug from far underground by crater-blasting impacts are providing glimpses of one possible way Mars' atmosphere has become much less dense than it used to be.
At several places where cratering has exposed material from depths of about 5 kilometers (3 miles) or more beneath the surface, observations by a mineral-mapping instrument on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter indicate carbonate minerals.
These are not the first detections of carbonates on Mars. However, compared to earlier findings, they bear closer resemblance to what some scientists have theorized for decades about the whereabouts of Mars' "missing" carbon. If deeply buried carbonate layers are found to be widespread, they would help answer questions about the disappearance of most of ancient Mars' atmosphere, which is deduced to have been thick and mostly carbon dioxide. The carbon that goes into formation of carbonate minerals can come from atmospheric carbon dioxide.


"A dramatic change in atmospheric density remains one of the most intriguing possibilities about early Mars," said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project Scientist Richard Zurek, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "Increasing evidence for liquid water on the surface of ancient Mars for extended periods continues to suggest that the atmosphere used to be much thicker.
Carbon dioxide makes up nearly all of today's Martian air and likely was most of a thicker early atmosphere, too. In today's thin, cold atmosphere, liquid water quickly freezes or boils away.
What became of that carbon dioxide? NASA will launch the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) in 2013 to investigate processes that could have stripped the gas from the top of the atmosphere into interplanetary space. Meanwhile, CRISM and other instruments now in orbit continue to look for evidence that some of the carbon dioxide in that ancient atmosphere was removed, in the presence of liquid water, by formation of carbonate minerals now buried far beneath the present surface.

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