NASA boffins have just made a discovery that could answer that eternal David Bowie question – is there life on Mars? Scientists have discovered atomic oxygen surrounding the red planet using the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (that’s SOFIA for short).
This high-tech equipment comes in the form of a massive 254 cm diameter telescope that flies above the Earth’s atmosphere on a modified Boeing 747SP jetliner.
NASA’s boffins had hoped to find more oxygen around Mars – only half as much as expected was discovered – but it could potentially mean a new home for humanity once we’ve run Earth into the ground.
“Atomic oxygen in the Martian atmosphere is notoriously difficult to measure,” said SOFIA project scientist, Pamela Marcum.
“To observe the far-infrared wavelengths needed to detect atomic oxygen, researchers must be above the majority of Earth’s atmosphere and use highly sensitive instruments, in this case, a spectrometer. SOFIA provides both capabilities.”
This is the first time in 40 years signs of oxygen have been found on Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor.
The Viking and Mariner missions of the 1970s made the last measurements of atomic oxygen in the Martian atmosphere.