Today, Mars has an almost non-existent atmosphere. Just a few heavier molecules that are clung on to by the planet’s weak gravity. Nothing even close to what we so deeply rely upon here on Earth. But, we now know that this may not have always been the case. Following the planet’s turbulent formation, an atmosphere would have existed, and possibly even liquid water. But alas, the red planet was not quite massive enough to hold onto whatever atmosphere it had, and gradually it drifted away into space; first the hydrogen, then the helium, and then the rest, taking along with it any indications of what may have been.
Until now, that is. Long buried rocks, brought to the surface by the bombardment of meteors, have been found that are rich in carbonate minerals. This is a clear sign of an abundant carbon dioxide atmosphere at the time of the rocks’ formation millions of years ago. Satellite images of the Leighton crater near the enormous Martian volcano, Syrtis Major, have confirmed the identity of these special minerals, that not only suggest that the Martian atmosphere was once more substantial, but that it could have been similar to that of Earth today.
So the more carbon in the atmosphere, the warmer and wetter the planet (due to a little known process called global warming), and that obviously begs the question: was there life on Mars? For now, we can only guess, but exciting findings like this can only bring us closer to a definitive answer.