A recent experiment conducted aboard the NASA Curiosity rover has confirmed that Mars lost most of its ancient atmosphere. The experiment shows that billions of years ago, Mars was a significantly warmer and wetter world. Having a warmer and wetter climate would've made Mars more habitable earlier in its life.
According to scientists studying the results of the experiment performed by Curiosity, Mars was much more habitable about 4 billion years ago. The experiment conducted by Curiosity showed less light argon gas than is normal for the solar system in the air left on Mars. Scientists believe that most of that light argon gas escaped from the top of the atmosphere over time.
Along with the escaping of that light argon gas went carbon dioxide and water vapor that formed the bulk of the ancient Martian atmosphere. The air left on Mars today is about 1000 times less dense than the atmosphere here on Earth. Interestingly, the incredibly thin Martian atmosphere still has enough force to generate dust storms that have been seen by satellites in orbit around the planet and rovers on the ground.
The report on the results of the experiment was made at a European geoscience meeting in Vienna, Austria on Monday. The report was presented with very little input from NASA because NASA personnel cancelled their attendance due to federal budget cuts for travel. Interestingly, the scientists that presented the report said that Mars was still red in its earlier history even though it was more habitable, warmer, and wetter.
[via USA Today]