Methane on Mars confirmed: scientists pinpoint likely source

Brittany A. Roston - Apr 1, 2019, 3:19 pm CDT
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Methane on Mars confirmed: scientists pinpoint likely source

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. The first emission was detected by the rover in the Gale Crater in June 2013 followed soon after by another emission. Now, years later, a major development in this research has been announced: independent confirmation.

The presence of methane on the Red Planet is exciting due to it possibly being a biosignature, though it can also be produced by geological activity. Humanity can’t yet say whether Mars contains life, but confirming the presence of methane is an important step in unraveling the planet’s history and current reality.

In an announcement today, the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) alongside the Italian Space Agency and National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology revealed that methane emissions had been detected on Mars by a second source: Europe’s Mars Express probe.

That detection happened on June 16, 2013, in the atmosphere above Mars’ Gale Crater. NASA Curiosity rover detected the methane emission from the Gale Crater within 24 hours of the space probe. The detection was made by the Fourier PFS spectrometer about 15 years after the probe’s initial 2004 detection of trace amounts of methane in the Martian atmosphere.

In addition to revealing the second methane reading, the newly published study details the likely source of that gas: a frozen methane sheet located beneath a rock formation relatively close to the Gale Crater. This supposed frozen sheet of methane may occasionally release gas into the Martian atmosphere. The news follows the ESA’s February announcement about evidence of dried up ancient river beds on Mars where simple organisms may have once existed.


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