June 24, 2019

Scientists uncover potential source of methane on Mars

04 April 2019, 08:45 | Edward Lowe

Giuranna et al. Nature Geoscience 2019 Grid created to help determined the source of the trace amounts of methane found on Mars

Grid created to help determined the source of the trace amounts of methane found on Mars

At first, scientists thought the methane originated inside Gale Crater.

Marco Giuranna from the Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology in Rome, Italy, and colleagues looked at data gathered by the planetary fourier spectrometer (PFS) on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter.

The nature and extent of methane in the Martian atmosphere is intensely debated.

The researchers theorise that the methane detected on Mars is being caused by small, transitory geological events, rather than a process in which the gas is constantly being replenished in the Martian atmosphere.

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Now an global team of experts have compared observations from two separate spacecraft, taken just one day apart in 2013, to find independent proof of methane on our neighboring planet. But this is the first time two separate pieces of equipment have detected methane (CH4) in the same region at the same time. 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.

In June 2013, the Curiosity rover spotted methane on the Martian surface, near the Gale Crater.

An worldwide 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.

"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 Giuranna in a statement. The Mars Express probe measured 15.5 parts per billion in the atmosphere above the crater. More radically, it suggests microbial life once existed on Mars, producing the smelly gas that's now escaping from the planet's bowels. Nasa experts feel that the Gale crater could have been a very ancient lake once upon a time.

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Tracing the methane source wasn't easy though: Scientists split up a large area around the Gale crater into a grid with squares, and then, researchers at Brussels' Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy used computer models to replicate one million different emission incidents in each square, noted.

The location, known as Aeolis Mensae, has a number of geological faults that may have fractured nearby permafrost and released any methane trapped inside. Both processes release the gas on Earth.

"We identified tectonic faults that might extend below a region proposed to contain shallow ice". Some says the methane detections on Mars are spurious or have come from other sources such as the rover itself. 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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