NASA`S Curiosity Rover Detected The Largest Amount Of Methane On Mars

Katie Ramirez
June 26, 2019

Curiosity has detected methane on Mars in the past but not on such high levels.

Methane is usually associated with organic microbes, and it may be the first real evidence that life could be lurking somewhere beneath the Red Planet.

In addition to the unusual image released publicly, Curiosity also found the largest amount of methane ever measured during the mission, NASA said. It is a notably riveting discovery as a result of the methane ranges found by the rover are about thrice increased than earlier detections, resulting in some speculation the gas could also be organic in origin.

Curiosity does not have instruments that can definitively say what the source of the methane is, or even if it is coming from a local source within Gale Crater or elsewhere on the planet. "The planning team thinks it might be a meteorite because it is so shiny", NASA wrote in a November 2018 mission update.

NASA yesterday released a statement confirming the discovery, explaining how the Curiosity rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments had detected methane at 21 parts per billion units by volume - unprecedented levels.

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National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy scientist Marco Giuranna, who handles methane measurements taken by the Mars Express orbiter, said that Mars Express, Curiosity, and Trace Gas Orbiter scientists were discussing the findings but that there remains "lot of data to be processed".

The amount is still small compared to Earth, where it is about 1,800 ppbv - meaning for every billion molecules, 1,800 are methane.

Scientists conducted a follow-up experiment and found Monday that the methane levels "sharply decreased" close to the background levels the rover sees normally. Their orbiter has yet to detect methane. Saturn's moon Titan has lakes of liquid methane. The European Space Agency, which launched the Trace Gas Orbiter past year, will be a key collaborator. This could help locate the source of the gas, and calculate how long it lasts in the atmosphere.

But, a year later, in 2013, the Curiosity reported back with methane findings of seven parts per billion, which lasted for a few months, before being broken down.

Curiosity scientists developed a technique that enabled the rover to detect even tinier amounts of methane with its existing tools. One of the main tasks of the Rover - search for traces of life on Mars, the study of the geological structure of Mars and the composition of its atmosphere.

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