Mars' life possibly driven underground by solar winds – NASA

mars planet solar winds life water nasa
It likely happened while Mars was still young (Getty)

Mars could have been teeming with life and water if it wasn't for a pesky solar wind that blew away its atmosphere, new research states.

The wind and radiation was able to completely change the red planet's environment to the "frigid desert world" we know today by stripping away vital gasses needed to keep the planet warm.

It had previously been shown atmospheric gas had been lost to space, but NASA's new measurements from its MAVEN spacecraft show just how much.

The research shows the planet lost 65 percent of the noble gas argon and the majority of carbon dioxide in a process called "sputtering" billions of years ago.

"The depletion was enough to transform the Martian climate," the study, published in Science, reads.

Traces of liquid water have previously been seen on modern day Mars' surface, but it can't exist as it does on Earth because the atmosphere is too thin and cold to support it.

"However, evidence such as features resembling dry riverbeds and minerals that only form in the presence of liquid water indicates the ancient Martian climate was much different - warm enough for water to flow on the surface for extended periods."

The researchers say it's possible microbial life could've existed on Mars' surface in the early days, but as the planet cooled that life may have been "driven underground or forced into occasional or rare surface oases".

A solar wind is a thin stream of electrically conducting gas constantly blowing from the sun's surface; the younger the star the more violent the wind and radiation which would have made the effects much greater in Mars' early life.

Researchers focused on argon because it can't react chemically with anything and the only way it can be sent into space is by sputtering.

Sputtering is the process in which ions picked up by the solar wind impact Mars at high speeds and physically knock atmospheric gas into space.

Once they figured out how much argon was lost, they could measure the effect of sputtering on other atoms and molecules including carbon dioxide.

They focused on carbon dioxide because it is the greenhouse gas which can keep in heat and keep the planet warm.