Xenon isotope constraints on ancient Martian atmospheric escape
William S. Cassata, Kevin J. Zahnle, Kyle M. Samperton, Peter C. Stephenson, Josh Wimpenny
Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Volume 580, 15 February 2022
• Xenon isotopes in an ancient Martian meteorite are mass-dependently fractionated.
• The extent of fractionation is less than that of the modern Martian atmosphere.
• These data reflect the Martian atmosphere at an intermediate stage of its evolution.
• Xenon escape persisted for hundreds of millions of years after planetary formation.
• An explanation is escape as an ion coupled to a partially ionized hydrogen or oxygen wind.”
“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.”