Manning Co-authors Research On Mars’ Atmosphere

Dr. Heidi Manning, professor of physics, is the co-author of an article on Mars that ran in a recent edition of Science magazine. manning

Printed in the July 19 issue of the journal, the article discloses the first measurements of the composition of the Mars atmosphere made by the instruments on NASA’s Curiosity rover.

“It’s an honor to be among the first scientists to disseminate what we’ve learned about Mars,” says Manning, who is one of 10 authors on the article. “The fact that the most prestigious and desirable scientific journal chose to publish our data just emphasizes the noteworthiness of our results.”

The analysis of data sent back by Curiosity provides clues to how Mars lost its original atmosphere, which Manning and her colleagues believe was much thicker than the one left on Mars today, Manning says.

Curiosity’s suite of Sample Analysis on Mars instruments, the rover’s cornerstone lab, measures the presence of different gases and isotopes in samples of Martian air.

Measurements showed that heavy isotopes of carbon and oxygen were more abundant in today’s thin atmosphere compared with the proportions in the raw materials that formed the planet.

“The data shows atmosphere was lost to space and not reacting to the ground, where we found the heavier isotopes,” Manning says.

She has spent six months analyzing data with the NASA Curiosity team and the designers of the Rover’s instruments. The work coincided with a sabbatical leave from Concordia, which enabled her to travel to labs in Maryland and California to work with the teams.

Manning expects her analytical work will diminish when she returns to teaching full time this academic year, but she plans to resume working with the NASA teams next summer.

“I feel so fortunate for being able to participate in these experiments,” she says. “All the equipment is working well and we’re getting great results. The data coming back to us is telling us far more than we ever knew about Mars.”