Potential source of methane on Mars discovered

ESA’s Mars Express confirmed from orbit the presence of methane observed one day earlier by the Curiosity rover on the ground

ESA’s Mars Express confirmed from orbit the presence of methane observed one day earlier by the Curiosity rover on the ground

Grid created to help determined the source of the trace amounts of methane found on Mars. The first emission was detected by the rover in the Gale Crater in June 2013 followed soon after by another emission.

"Our finding constitutes the first independent confirmation of a methane detection", Marco Giuranna from the National Institute of Astrophysics in Rome told The Guardian. The simulations took into account the measured data, expected atmospheric circulation patterns, and methane release intensity and duration based on the geological phenomenon of "gas seepage".

Researchers have devoted considerable attention and resources to the search of methane on Mars, with the European Space Agency and Russia's Roscosmos even deploying a special Trace Gas Orbiter to the planet recently to seek out the compound, along with water vapor, and to find clues about what led to their formation.

'Rather than by large emissions and a global presence, our data suggest that the presence of methane on Mars might be characterised by small, short emissions and transient events'. Interestingly, Mars Express detected no other methane spikes during the observational period aside from the one detected by Curiosity. NASA Curiosity rover detected the methane emission from the Gale Crater within 24 hours of the space probe. The next day, ESA's Mars Express probe captured air samples with a methane concentration of 15.5 parts per billion as it whizzed through the atmosphere above Gale Crater.

Methane is a chemical compound closely associated with microbial life, but it isn't necessarily biological in nature.

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"Mars Express was the first to report a significant detection of methane from orbit around Mars, and now, fifteen years later, we can announce the first simultaneous and co-located detection of methane with a rover on the surface", says Dmitri Titov, ESA's Mars Express project scientist.

While spacecraft and telescopic observations from Earth have in general reported no or very low detections of methane, or measurements right at the limit of the instruments' capabilities, a handful of spurious spikes, along with Curiosity's reported seasonal variation at its location in Gale Crater, raise the exciting question of how it is being generated and destroyed in present times. Really, on old Mars, when it was wet enough for rivers a few of the time, the rest of the data looks like Mars was cold and dry more often than not, Kite said. Both processes release the gas on Earth. Something similar may be happening on Mars, in this case, along the faults of the Aeolis Mensae region.

"We identified tectonic faults that might extend below a region proposed to contain shallow ice".

They were also able to investigate the potential source of the methane, using numerical modelling and geological analysis, which suggested that it is coming from a fault near Gale Crater that is releasing it into the Martian atmosphere.

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