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Jun 4, 2009

Report: Earth's Atmosphere Disappearing Faster than Mars

We're not saying Earth will soon go all Total Recall on us and require humans to walk around in radiation-shielded space suits. But a new Discovery report indicates that researchers were recently "stunned" to find out that our planet is losing its atmosphere faster than both Mars and Venus are--neither of which have significant magnetic fields. That could have major implications for what we thought was true about Earth's atmosphere. And it's likely due to the sun.

"We often tell ourselves that we are very fortunate living on this planet because we have this strong magnetic shield that protects us from all sorts of things that the cosmos throws at us -- cosmic rays, solar flares and the pesky solar wind," said Christopher Russell, a professor of geophysics and space physics at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in the article. "It certainly does help in some of those areas but ... in the case of the atmosphere, this may not be true."

The theory is that Earth's magnetosphere is actually helping the sun's energized particles strip away a tiny fraction of Earth's atmosphere, according to a separate National Geographic article--meaning that we're losing oxygen and hydrogen faster than neighboring planets.

Even so, scientists say that we still have several billion years left of atmosphere. But the current puzzle is: if Earth, Mars, and Venus all started out in a similar fashion at the beginning of the Solar System's formation, why are their atmospheres behaving so differently?

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