Published: Wed, April 03, 2019
Science | By

Mars Express Matches Methane Spike Measured by Curiosity

But is there microbial life on Mars? Seeking a better knowledge of Martian precipitation, researchers lacked photos and elevation models for over 200 early Martian riverbeds spanning more than a billion years.

Two independent analyses were used to reach this conclusion, including computer simulations that assessed the probability of methane emissions from the Martian surface, and the identification of geological features within Gale Crater consistent with the associated methane spike.

Even though there are still doubts over methane on Mars, the study revealed some interesting insights on potential methane sources and how the Red Planet's fluctuating atmosphere might have tampered with a permafrost and allowed methane to be released. On gas and ice giants such as Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, plenty of methane is produced via chemical processes. This was a significant finding - methane has been periodically detected on Mars at various points, but the gas has always vanished thereafter.

"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. Humanity can't yet say whether Mars contains life, but confirming the presence of methane is an important step in unraveling the planet's history and current reality. An global team compared observations from the two separate spacecraft to find independent proof of methane on our neighboring planet resolving an intense, long-standing debate.

Europe's Mars Express probe measured 15.5 parts per billion in the atmosphere above the Gale Crater on June 16, 2013. What's more, the sporadic, intermittent nature of these apparent methane spikes suggests the methane is being released at irregular intervals. NASA Curiosity rover detected the methane emission from the Gale Crater within 24 hours of the space probe.

"We have developed a new approach to select, process and recover data", from the spectrometer, explains Marco Giuranna. Geologists from Italy and the US also carefully examined the region around the Gale crater for methane-releasing features. Their findings suggest methane releases are extremely rare and that the gas swiftly disappears. Since permafrost is an excellent seal for methane, it is possible that the ice here could trap subsurface methane and release it episodically along the faults that break through this ice. Methane can be made as a downstream product of serpentinisation.

In December, researchers working on the European Space Agency's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) said they had not detected any methane in the Martian atmosphere since the spacecraft arrived in orbit in 2016.

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