Friday, 19 April, 2019

Potential source of methane on Mars discovered

Scientists uncover potential source of methane on Mars 'Very Exciting': Scientists CONFIRM Existence of Possible Life-Sign Gas on Mars
Cary Marshall | 04 April, 2019, 20:45

In a new report, researchers claim to have found data substantiating Curiosity's initial methane detection.

When Curiosity detected methane nearly six years ago, it was speculated that the gas originated north of the rover because the prevailing winds were southward, and that the release likely occurred inside the crater.

The scientists led by Dr Marco Giuranna, from the National Institute of Astrophysics in Rome, wrote: "The results presented in this work not only corroborate previous detections by Curiosity but, in a broader perspective, might change our view of methane occurrence on Mars". Long periods of time have passed without any methane being detected in the atmosphere at all. 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.

That methane might exist on Mars is an issue of considerable debate. But figuring out where the Martian methane came from, and how, will tell us something new and exciting about the Red Planet - even if that source is not microbes.

Nearly six years after NASA's Curiosity rover first detected hints of methane on Mars, scientists may have uncovered the reason it was there.

In the study, reported in the Nature Geoscience journal, the team analysed data from planetary fourier spectrometer (PFS) on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter, to look for methane in and around the Gale crater from December 2012 to July 2014.

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"Although parts per billion in general means a relatively small amount, it is quite remarkable for Mars - our measurement corresponds to an average of about 46 tonnes of methane ... present in the area of 49,000 sq km observed from our orbit".

At the time of Curiosity's detection, it was thought that the methane might have originated north of the rover (because the prevailing winds were southward), and that the release came from inside Gale Crater, Curiosity's landing location.

Scientists expect to gain new insights into the nature of Mars' methane and other trace gases from data collected by ESA's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a probe with an instrument suite created to survey Mars' atmospheric makeup. Both processes release the gas on Earth.

The findings point at the same region known as Aeolis Mensae.

The paper's co-author, Giuseppe Etiope, explained: "We identified tectonic faults that might extend below a region proposed to contain shallow ice". Despite the fact that much of Earth's methane is produced biologically, biological sources for Mars' methane were always unlikely.

"Remarkably, we saw that the atmospheric simulation and geological assessment, performed independently of each other, suggested the same region of provenance of the methane, which is situated about 500 km east of Gale", said Marco Giuranna from the varsity.

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