Mysterious spikes of oxygen on Mars have got space scientists baffled

Unexplained variations in oxygen levels on the surface of Mars has got scientists scratching their heads.

The spikes were picked up by Nasa’s Curiosity rover which is currently exploring the Gale Crater on the surface of the Red Planet.

On board the rover (which is the size of a small car) is an instrument that monitors the amount of various substances in the atmosphere and how they change seasonally.

Curiosity has been on Mars since 2012 so it’s recorded plenty of data – but scientists aren’t sure what’s causing these oxygen spikes.

‘The SAM [Sample Analysis on Mars instrument on board Curiosity] measurements of [oxygen] in Gale crater do not show the annual stability or seasonal patterns that would be predicted based on the known sources and sinks in the atmosphere,’ the Nasa scientists wrote in a paper outlining their findings.

The scientists found there was a lot more oxygen than expected during the Martian summer in the northern hemisphere and far less than they expected in the winter.

Naturally, theories are already being put forward to describe the spikes.

Mlissa Trainer, a planetary scientist at Nasa, said: ‘the fact that the oxygen behaviour isn’t perfectly repeatable every season makes us think that it’s not an issue that has to do with atmospheric dynamics.

‘It has to be some chemical source and sink that we can’t yet account for.’

Curiosity is currently exploring Gale Crater, a huge dry lake believed to be over 3.5 billion years old. The crater stretches 98 miles across and Curiosity is hunting for signs of water that may once have existed there.

Eventually, it will move above the ridge of the crater and photograph what’s on the other side.

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