Published: Thu, April 04, 2019
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Curiosity rover confirms source of seasonal methane spikes on Mars

Curiosity rover confirms source of seasonal methane spikes on Mars

On Monday, scientists published their findings about the first independent confirmation about methane on Mars in the Nature Geoscience journal. The first emission was detected by the rover in the Gale Crater in June 2013 followed soon after by another emission.

"This is very exciting and largely unexpected", Marco Giuranna, the principal investigator for the PFS experiment from the Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology in Rome, told AFP.

"Despite various detection's reported by separate groups and different experiments, and although plausible mechanisms have been proposed to explain the observed abundance, variability and lifetime of methane in the current Martian atmosphere, the methane debate still splits the Mars community". Since this time, Curiosity has discovered evidence of seasonal changes in methane. Scientists wanted to find out if methane on the Red Planet is created by some forms of alien life. Now, NASA's Curiosity rover and the European Space Agency's Mars Express have confirmed the gas' presence in the air above Gale Crater. The Mars Express probe measured 15.5 parts per billion in the atmosphere above the 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 2013, NASA's Curiosity rover detected a methane emission on Mars, something more recently determined to be cyclical based on the planet's seasons.

On 16 June 2013, instruments on Curiosity recorded a spike in methane in the Gale crater, a 96-mile-wide bowl where the rover landed in August 2012.

In addition to confirming the presence of methane, the planetary scientists ran computer models to try to figure out its source, dividing the region around the Gale Crater into 30 250x250 km2 grids.

The location, known as Aeolis Mensae, has a number of geological faults that may have fractured nearby permafrost and released any methane trapped inside. The most likely origin block we've identified on the surface contains numerous geological faults that could account for the release.

Analysis of data from the Mars Express orbiter shows that there was one "spike" of methane gas - and it may have come from beneath the ground, perhaps from melting permafrost.

"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. Something similar may be happening on Mars, in this case, along the faults of the Aeolis Mensae region.

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