Research

Astronomers detected methane on mars

Astronomers detected methane on mars

During this time, the instrument noticed methane only once, which was on the same day Curiosity observed the sudden increase in methane on Mars.

The researchers now hope to better understand how methane is removed from the atmosphere.

They were also able to investigate the potential source of the methane, using numerical modelling and geological analysis, which suggested that it is coming from a fault near Gale Crater that is releasing it into the Martian atmosphere.

A second European spacecraft, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, is expected to shed more light on the mystery of Martian methane.

On Earth, methane is a key sign of life, and is emitted from biological organisms. "Prior to our study, methane detections on Mars, being either in situ, from orbit, or from Earth-based telescopes, were not confirmed by independent observations".

"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", said Marco Giuranna from the Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology in Rome and lead author of the new paper published to Nature Geoscience. But even if methanogenic forms of life have not developed on Mars, methane can be produced by abiotic processes that are likely on the Red Planet.

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An global team of scientists comparing observations made by two separate spacecraft taken a day apart in 2013 have finally conclusively confirmed the presence of methane on Mars, following over a decade and a half of speculation after an ESA probe discovered the existence of trace elements of the compound on the Red Planet.

It's difficulty to detect constantly suggests the methane is being released in intermittent spikes. Comparing the data from Curiosity with the data from Mars Express, the team was able to determine that the methane in question probably came from a ground release some distance from Curiosity's location at Gale Crater.

"Our finding constitutes the first independent confirmation of a methane detection", Giuranna said.

Curiosity's landing site in Gale Crater. Researchers at the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy in Brussels used computer models to simulate one million different emission scenarios in each square. Geologists from Italy and the USA also carefully examined the region around the Gale crater for methane-releasing features.

"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. Methane can be made as a downstream product of serpentinisation.