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NASA Plane Detects Oxygen On Mars

MOUNTAIN VIEW (CBS SF) -- A new discovery breathes life into the case for humans inhabiting Mars. NASA researchers have found oxygen on the Red Planet.

It has been decades since the last measurements of oxygen on Mars. Those were made during the Viking and Mariner missions in the 1070s.

NASA's flying observatory known as the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) detected oxygen atoms in the upper layers of the Martian atmosphere known as the mesosphere. There are no exact figures as to how much atomic oxygen was found but researchers will continue to use SOFIA to measure other areas.

"Atomic oxygen in the Martian atmosphere is notoriously difficult to measure," said SOFIA project scientist, Pamela Marcum in a press release. "To observe the far-infrared wavelengths needed to detect atomic oxygen, researchers must be above the majority of Earth's atmosphere and use highly sensitive instruments, in this case a spectrometer. SOFIA provides both capabilities."

SOFIA is capable of doing just that. The modified Boeing 747SP with its 100-inch diameter telescope flies as high as 45,000 feet above the Earth's atmosphere, well above most of the infrared-blocking moisture.

NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field located in Mountain View, California manages the SOFIA program. The mission is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center.

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