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03 April 2019, 07:12 | Edward Lowe
Now scientists confirm that another spacecraft, known as Mars Express, detected methane in the same area, just a day later, apparently confirming that first detection. There's a very good chance that the methane is generated geologically, and this is what this new paper also suggests.
The two parallel experiments determined the most likely source of methane on Mars to be an ice sheet east of Gale Crater.
Researchers have devoted considerable attention and resources to the search of methane on Mars, with the European Space Agency and Russia's Roscosmos even deploying a special Trace Gas Orbiter to the planet recently to seek out the compound, along with water vapor, and to find clues about what led to their formation. Methane produced by micro-organisms in the distant past could also get trapped within ice.
A reanalysis of data collected by ESA's Mars Express during the first 20 months of NASA's Curiosity mission found one case of correlated methane detection, the first time an in-situ measurement has been independently confirmed from orbit. An worldwide team compared observations from the two separate spacecraft to find independent proof of methane on our neighboring planet resolving an intense, long-standing debate.
"Our finding constitutes the first independent confirmation of a methane detection", Giuranna said. What's more, the sporadic, intermittent nature of these apparent methane spikes suggests the methane is being released at irregular intervals.
At the time of the Curiosity observation, scientists figured the methane originated north of the rover and was carried to the Gale Crater by southerly winds. The next day, ESA's Mars Express probe captured air samples with a methane concentration of 15.5 parts per billion as it whizzed through the atmosphere above 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.
"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. Both processes release the gas on Earth.
Marco Giuranna suspects the plume didn't originate from Gale Crater. They also looked for features that may release methane such as fault lines and fault intersections.
Shortly after Curiosity landed in 2012 in the Gale impact crater, "I made a decision to conduct a long-term monitoring of the Martian atmosphere" at this location, says the researcher, whose study is published in Nature Geoscience. 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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