# Any information on the salt content of Mars' atmospheric dust?

Answers to and comments on How to drink water on Mars? suggest that one would not want to drink melted water ice obtained from exposed surface deposits near the poles because it may contain various salts and other dangerous chemicals (perchlorate salts are one particularly nasty suspected component of mars soil and it's water content).

Mars' atmosphere contains dust even when there are no dust storms, and in this answer it is explained to be the cause of the reddish color of the Martian sky as has been photographed by several Mars landers and rovers.

Are there any measurements or even models or predictions on how much of the particulate matter in Mars' atmosphere could be tiny particles of salt, or salt mixed with other minerals? Put more simply, how salty might Mars' atmosphere be?

Martian sunset (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Texas A&M/Cornell) borrowed from this answer.

• When sea water on Earth evaporates, it leaves behind salt (evaporation bonds; lots of those in SF Bay Area). Put another way, salt doesn't evaporate with water, so I don't see how there could be salt in the atmosphere of Mars, unless salty water behaves differently in a low-pressure atmosphere. Jan 27 '19 at 21:24
• @Muze have a look at the edit, I think this explains the background of your question a bit better.
– uhoh
Jan 28 '19 at 3:00
• @uhoh this is better than can say it.
– Muze
Jan 28 '19 at 3:25
• @Muze I would say you ask very thought provoking questions! I wish I have your out of the box thinking :(. Great job though! :P :) Feb 22 '19 at 4:23
• @Muze, oh, ok. That is a really good idea; makes more people want to answer. But sadly I wish astronomy SE had more people :(. Feb 22 '19 at 20:17

[WARNING: I may be wrong. Astronomy is my hobby and I will answer to the extent that I know of. I may be a bit off.]

Mars' atmosphere contains I guess what you can say 2 major parts. Gases, and debris picked up by winds on the lower levels of the atmosphere (like Earth).

Gases

Mars' atmospheric gas composition mainly consists of CO$$_2$$.

More specifically, in an article page by NASA, Mars' atmosphere contains

Carbon dioxide: 95.32 percent

Nitrogen: 2.7 percent

Argon: 1.6 percent

Oxygen: 0.13 percent

Carbon monoxide: 0.08 percent

Also, minor amounts of: water vapor, nitrogen oxide, neon, hydrogen-deuterium-oxygen, krypton and xenon.

Dust/other stuff

Mars' atmosphere, although 99~100 times thinner that that of Earth's, can support winds, weather/storms, and clouds. The winds are a major criterion to Mars' permanent atmospheric dust composition. Dust particles, airborne or not absorbing sunlight to some extent, which in turn warms up the atmosphere in and near their vicinity. Warm pockets of air flow toward colder regions, generating winds; the same effect here on Earth. Strong winds lift more dust off the ground, which in turn heats the atmosphere, raising more wind and kicking up more dust. This is amplified by Mars' axis tilt and momentum, which can contribute to Mars' massive dust storms encircling the planet.

In addition to the winds, the Martian atmosphere is dense enough to support vortexes. Dust devils routinely kick up the rusty dust that covers Mars' surface.

So we can see now the causes for such permanent content of dust in the atmosphere of Mars, with...

...higher amounts of dust in the northern fall and winter, and lower amounts in the northern spring and summer.

https://www.space.com/16903-mars-atmosphere-climate-weather.html

Let's now take a look at Mars' surface dust composition.

Its dust mainly is composed of Perchlorate salts; Chlorine; Iron(III) Sulfide; NiFe; Sulfur; Iron Sulfide; Nickel; Silicon; Oxygen; Iron; Magnesium; Aluminum; Calcium; Potassium; Pyroxene; Plagioclase; Glass; Olivine; and Feldspar. I would imagine that the dust in the air would contain many of these same components as the surface dust, although some heavier salts and chemicals would only last a brief time in the air.

According to Wikipedia,

The NASA Phoenix lander first detected chlorine-based compounds such as calcium perchlorate. The levels detected contain 0.6% of the salt perchlorate.

and

The soil has a basic pH of 7.7

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars

At such high levels, there should be definitely perchlorate salt in the air, but not necessarily permanent though, as the atmosphere may not be able to support the density of the salt.

However, a recent study of terrestrial dust devils has shown that around two thirds of the fine particles lifted by these vortices can remain suspended in the atmosphere and be transported around the globe. I would theorize that lighter salts would be able to remain suspended in the air, while heavier ones would slowly settle to the surface, given enough time. But hey, this is MARS! With those huge dust storms and continuous vortexes, I doubt there is enough time.

All of this suggests that during the times when there are rather windy conditions, such as in a close proximity to a dust devil, or during one of the dust storms, the atmosphere should contain almost the same concentrations of salts as in the soil itself.

During calm periods, the air dust content should still remain the same.

• Hi, Max. Can you please edit in the sources of your quotes? As it stands, unless you link to the page from which you got them, this constitutes plagiarism. Thanks. Feb 22 '19 at 18:53
• @HDE226868 okay. Can i just say somthing like "according to wikipedia" or something like that? Its been more than 12 hours since ive been on the sites and I dont remember where exactly. Feb 22 '19 at 20:00
• You should find the exact page and link to that; if you can't find it, please remove the quote. Oh, by the way, here's some information you might find helpful. Feb 23 '19 at 17:00
• @HDE226868 okay. Feb 23 '19 at 17:13