I have read this news article and I wonder how Mars water is lost to space. Mars has mass and hence it has also got gravity to pull objects towards it like the Earth does. So how can water be lost to space? Does not Mars pull the water body towards it?

  • $\begingroup$ The study itself (no free fulltext) sciencemag.org/content/early/2015/03/04/science.aaa3630 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa3630; phys.org about paper: phys.org/news/2015-03-mars-earth-arctic-ocean.html $\endgroup$ – osgx Mar 6 '15 at 4:27
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewThompson hydrogen and oxygen has all mass and hence they will be attracted towards mars/earth and show can the be lost to space? $\endgroup$ – SpringLearner Mar 6 '15 at 4:41
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    $\begingroup$ Andrew Thompson, Earth losing around 3 kg of Hydrogen per second and 50 gram Helium per second; according to SciAm 2009 Our Planet's Leaky Atmosphere (full text). SpringLearner, They can escape if their speed is more than 5.1 km/s (for Mars) or 11.2 km/s (for Earth). The speed can be generated by high temperature and statistics (some fraction of atoms have higher speed at fixed temperature) and also by solar wind. $\endgroup$ – osgx Mar 6 '15 at 4:42
  • $\begingroup$ @osgx then some day earth will be planet without hydrogen and infact no water $\endgroup$ – SpringLearner Mar 6 '15 at 4:44
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    $\begingroup$ "then some day earth will be planet without hydrogen and infact no water" Yes but 'some day' can be a long, long time away. From the estimates I heard, it took around a billion years for Mars to lose its water. Before Earth has lost a significant amount of its own water, the Sun will have expanded to engulf it, so losing some water will be irrelevant. @osgx Thanks for the actual numbers. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Thompson Mar 6 '15 at 8:24

UV tends to crack H2O into hydrogen and oxygen and the hydrogen is easily lost to space. The oxygen is more massive and leaks out to space more slowly. The Earth is also losing gas to space, albeit so slowly that our atmosphere will not change much due to the effect before the Sun heats up enough to give Earth a runaway greenhouse effect.

Mars has mass and hence it has also got gravity to pull objects towards it like the Earth does. So how can water be lost to space?

At any specific temperature for a group of gas molecules, the state energy of any one gas molecule follows a Boltzmann distribution. Some are traveling very slow, most are at a median velocity, and some are traveling very fast. If the ones traveling very fast are traveling at greater than the escape velocity of the parent body, and don't run into something else that slows them down, they will likely be lost to space.

By the way, a grain of dust has a gravitational field, but you don't see any grains of dust with an atmosphere.

  • $\begingroup$ Would there be enough at the fast end of the distribution to amount to a significant leakage just from thermal energy, or would it require a "kick" from solar wind as described in the other answer? $\endgroup$ – Anthony X May 6 '15 at 3:15
  • $\begingroup$ @AnthonyX That would depend on a variety of factors, including the raw temperature of the Sun, the distance of the planet from the Sun, the strength of the stellar wind, the mass and diameter of the planet.. It deserves a separate question, but you would want to narrow it down by specifying a planet and defining what you mean by 'significant'. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Thompson May 6 '15 at 3:20

Wikipedia in its http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_ocean_hypothesis says (I added links to the full text of papers):

Fate of the ocean

As the Martian climate cooled, the surface of the ocean would have frozen.

So, water possibly migrated under the surface, or was "sputtered" - particles in upper atmosphere hit by solar wind and get accelerated enough to start into space (reach escape velocity):



According to The Planetary Air Leak (SciAm 2009) http://libserver.wlsh.tyc.edu.tw/sa/pdf.file/en/e088/e088p070.pdf (table on last page) Mars loses hydrogen by thermal methods, and Carbon, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Argon by nonthermal methods: photo-chemical and sputtering.


First of all, look at this picture: the phase diagram for water. Any water on the surface of Mars would be frozen. Under the influence of solar radiation, ice can undergo a process named sublimation: a direct transition from ice to water vapor (you can see this on cold winter days with the sun shining on a snow cover, which then very gradually thins). Of course Mars would attract the ice, and it also attracts the water vapour molecules resulting from sublimation. However, as Andrew Thompson points out here, some of these molecules, their speeds following the Boltzmann distribution, would escape into space. As solar radiation influx, in W/m², is much lower on Mars than on Earth, the sublimation process would also be slower. But in the end it would still happen: any surface water, frozen into ice, would slowly sublimate away.


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