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So how did it stay so warm?
“Early Mars is unique in the sense that it’s the one planetary environment, outside Earth, where we can say with confidence that there were at least episodic periods where life could have flourished,” said Robin Wordsworth, assistant professor of environmental science and engineering at SEAS, and first author of the paper. “If we understand how early Mars operated, it could tell us something about the potential for finding life on other planets outside the solar system.”
“You can do climate calculations where you add CO2 and build up to hundreds of times the present day atmospheric pressure on Mars and you still never get to temperatures that are even close to the melting point,” said Wordsworth.
“When you’re looking at exotic atmospheres, you can’t compare them to Earth’s atmosphere,” said Wordsworth. “You have to start from first principles. So we looked at what happens when methane, hydrogen and carbon dioxide collide and how they interact with photons. We found that this combination results in very strong absorption of radiation.”
“This research shows that the warming effects of both methane and hydrogen have been underestimated by a significant amount,” said Wordsworth. “We discovered that methane and hydrogen, and their interaction with carbon dioxide, were much better at warming early Mars than had previously been believed.”
“One of the reasons early Mars is so fascinating is that life needs complex chemistry to emerge,” said Wordsworth. “These episodes of reducing gas emission followed by planetary oxidation could have created favorable conditions for life on Mars.”