Possible sign of life on Mars confirmed by scientists

Katie Ramirez
April 3, 2019

Since then, many have speculated on whether this methane blip was a sign of Martian life, just a chemical reaction, or even an error caused by Curiosity's equipment.

Meanwhile, the search for methane is ongoing.

In 2013, the Mars Express spacecraft detected methane near Gale Crater on Mars. Here on Earth, the methane is produced by methanogenic microbes. The European Space Agency's Mars Express mission also caught the spike in methane levels on that date in 2013, proving that it wasn't a sensor malfunction or a mistaken reading by Curiosity.

"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 Marco Giuranna from the Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology in Rome and lead author of the new paper published to Nature Geoscience.

That methane might exist on Mars is an issue of considerable debate.

While the Curiosity rover measured a methane concentration of 5.78 parts per billion (ppb) in the Gale crater on June 16, 2013 the PFS recorded 15.5 ppb in the column of atmosphere above the crater, the report said.

Now an worldwide 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.

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Methane is only supposed to have a very short lifetime in the Martian atmosphere, so detecting it there means it must have been released very recently.

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.

Researchers succeeded in detecting methane on Mars which is considered as an indicator for potential microbial life on the Red Planet. "While this work relies on the hypothesis of a surface release, other explanations remain possible, but given a surface release, our work provides the first constraints for source locations", researchers write.

The scientists used the orbiter's planetary fourier spectrometer (PFS) to look for methane in and around Gale crater from December 2012 to July 2014.

This process is well known on Earth to occur along tectonic faults and from natural gas fields. The features at Aeolis Mensae are thought to be favorable for this kind of permafrost formation, increasing the chance that periodic breaks or fault lines could allow for a release. Their findings suggest methane releases are extremely rare and that the gas swiftly disappears.

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.

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