Martian Air

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Martian Air

The Martian atmosphere is nothing to sniff at — or to sniff at all. It’s less than one percent as thick as Earth’s atmosphere, and it’s made almost entirely of carbon dioxide. Yet it could be a valuable resource for future explorers. They might be able to extract oxygen from it, and use it to make rocket fuel.

The Perseverance rover has already pulled oxygen from the Martian air. A small generator squeezed and heated carbon dioxide. That split the C-O-2 into carbon monoxide and oxygen atoms. The atoms were than combined to make oxygen molecules — the form we breathe.

The experiment generates as much oxygen as a small tree. The technique would need to be drastically scaled up to produce enough oxygen for several human explorers. But at least we know the technique works.

Scientists also have tested a technique for making methane from the Martian air — but only in the lab here on Earth. The methane could be used as rocket fuel. No rocket engines have yet used methane to send a craft into space. But several companies and agencies in the U.S. and elsewhere are working on them. So human explorers may be able to use the Martian air to send them on their way home.

Look for Mars all night long. The planet is low in the east-northeast as night falls. It looks like a brilliant orange star. In all the night sky right now, only the Moon and Jupiter outshine it. It climbs high overhead later on, so you can’t miss it.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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