Scientists uncover potential source of methane on Mars
03 April, 2019, 19:12
On Monday, scientists published their findings about the first independent confirmation about methane on Mars in the Nature Geoscience journal. There's a very good chance that the methane is generated geologically, and this is what this new paper also suggests.
By cross-referencing readings from Mars Express and Curiosity, they determined that the methane originated about 300 miles east of the Gale Crater, in a region known as Aeolis Mensae. Since then, it has found evidence of seasonal variations in methane, with levels of the gas rising and falling with the Martian summers and winters.
Despite the fact that much of Earth's methane is produced biologically, biological sources for Mars' methane were always unlikely.
"In general we did not detect any methane, aside from one definite detection of about 15 parts per billion by volume of methane in the atmosphere, which turned out to be a day after Curiosity reported a spike of about six parts per billion", says Marco Giuranna, principal investigator for the PFS. This was a significant finding - methane has been periodically detected on Mars at various points, but the gas has always vanished thereafter.
Despite some speculation over methane on Mars, a group of scientists chose to conduct an independent investigation to see if the gas might exist on the Red Planet.
Analysing the isotopic signature or atomic "strain" of carbon in the methane may help scientists determine whether or not the gas is sign of life.
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That detection happened on June 16, 2013, in the atmosphere above Mars' Gale Crater.
The initial discovery of the methane emission by the Curiosity rover in June 2013 had been questioned by some experts.
At the time of the Curiosity detection, it was speculated that the methane originated north of the rover, because the prevailing winds were southward, and that the release likely occurred inside the crater.
"That methane could be released episodically along faults that break through the permafrost due to partial melting of ice, gas pressure buildup induced by gas accumulation during migration, or stresses due to planetary adjustments or local meteorite impact", the scientists said in the study.
"Our results support the idea that methane release on Mars might be characterized by small, transient geological events rather than a constantly replenishing global presence, but we also need to understand better how methane is removed from the atmosphere, and how to reconcile the Mars Express data with results from other missions", adds co-author Frank Daerden from the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy in Brussels. "Let's just say it will make for an interesting discussion in the community as we seek to resolve the observations from existing and new measurements of methane on Mars".
The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, which is created to make a detailed inventory of the Martian atmosphere, was launched in 2016. This area of the Red Planet, which is dubbed Aeolis Mensae, has numerous geological faults that might have broken permafrost and released previously trapped methane.
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