Xenon isotope constraints on ancient Martian atmospheric escape

1William S.Cassata,2Kevin J.Zahnle,1,3Kyle M.Samperton,1Peter C.Stephenson,1Josh Wimpenny
Earth and Planetary Science Letters 580, 117349 Link to Article [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2021.117349]
1Nuclear and Chemical Sciences Division, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, L-235, Livermore, CA 94550, USA
2Space Science Division, NASA Ames Research Center, MS 245-3, Moffett Field, CA 94035, USA
3Trace Nuclear Measurement Technology Group, Savannah River National Laboratory, Aiken, SC 29808, USA
Copyright Elsevier

Trapped, paleoatmospheric xenon (Xe) in the Martian regolith breccia NWA 11220 is mass-dependently fractionated relative to solar Xe by 16.2 ± 2.7‰/amu. These data indicate that fractionation of atmospheric Xe persisted for hundreds of millions of years after planetary formation. Such a protracted duration of atmospheric Xe mass fractionation, which is particularly striking when compared to the non-fractionated state of Martian atmospheric krypton (Kr), cannot be easily reconciled with Xe escape as a neutral atom in a neutral hydrodynamic hydrogen wind. However, Xe escape as an ion coupled to a partially ionized hydrogen or oxygen wind provides a simple solution to problems associated with the neutral escape hypothesis. Ionic Xe escape requires a sufficiently high escape flux of a carrier ion (H+ or O+) and probably requires a structured planetary magnetic field to channel the flow. The end of Xe escape from Mars could be attributed to waning hydrogen sources from volcanic outgassing or from interactions of reduced impactors with surface water and ice. Alternatively, if Xe ions were driven off by O+, the end of Xe escape could be attributed to the decay of solar extreme ultra-violet radiation.

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