Science

Nasa's Mars rover detects methane spike, hinting at life

Nasa's Mars rover detects methane spike, hinting at life”

Since recording an increase of methane in Mars' Gale Crater-the 96-mile-wide cavity where the rover landed-in 2013, Curiosity has discovered evidence of seasonal changes in methane.

However, the discovery of more methane does not necessarily confirm NASA has stumbled upon the signs of alien life.

Nonetheless, the latest data will heighten interest in the topic.

Though Mars has no active volcanoes like on Earth, it is possible that methane is being released from geological processes, involving reactions of carbon from carbonate rocks or carbon dioxide, with hydrogen from liquid water.

In December 2018, Curiosity detected a "shiny" object that may be a meteorite, but NASA researchers were not sure at the time.

The finding came from the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) tunable laser spectrometer.

He added: "Now that both Curiosity and TGO are active on Mars, we have the chance to compare measurements made at the same time, which will allow direct comparison".

This probe, known as the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), started observing the the planet's atmosphere in April 2017.

Whether the source of the methane is biological or not, figuring out where it comes from will teach us something new about Mars. Hence, tracking down the source of methane on Mars could be a way to find out if there are microbes living in the extreme conditions of the Red Planet.

Quite why it can not see what Curiosity sees is therefore a major puzzle.

However, the American space agency's Curiosity Rover is not equipped with instruments to determine the exact source of the methane.

But if this process exists, scientists are at a loss now to explain it.

The results of this weekend's experiments are expected to be sent back to Earth on Monday.

However, based on last week's discovery, the amount of methane gas in Mars' atmosphere could have been produced by living microbes. So the quantities at Mars, whatever their source, are still very small.

Dr Mahaffy's statement about historic methane is an important one, too.

But the Trace Gas Orbiter, a newer European spacecraft launched in 2016 with more sensitive instruments, did not detect any methane at all in its first batch of scientific observations a year ago.

Of course, there might be other possibilities, like this volume of methane being trapped underground for years and only surfacing now.



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