Methane on Mars

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Methane on Mars?

are close to solving the mystery of gas on the red planet.

Thursday, 1st July 2021

When looking for ancient microbial life outside of Earth, Mars is the closest place to have traces of gas and conditions that can support this activity. However, one of those gases has plagued scientists for many years. Scientists are puzzled by the question of whether methane, the main component of natural gas on Earth, exists on Mars.


Although the Curiosity rover observed this gas rolling over the surface of the Gale crater on Mars, the European Space Agency orbiter hovering above it could not detect it in the Martian atmosphere.


Now, a new study shows that the methane concentration on the surface of Gale Crater increases and decreases throughout the day, which in turn can lead to differences in gas detection.


Research published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics shows that the amount, distribution, and behavior of methane in the Martian atmosphere have aroused great interest because this gas is considered a possible biological feature of microbial reproduction.



On earth, the microorganisms that help most livestock digest plants produce large amounts of methane. Therefore, its potential presence on a planet 300 million kilometers away has aroused people's excitement. The presence of methane on Mars may mean that microorganisms live or do indeed live on this red planet. However, the methane on Mars may have nothing to do with microorganisms or any other organisms and may be produced by geological processes involving the interaction of rocks, water, and heat.


Also Read: Venus can still have a life.


Although its existence is exciting, it was detected by one instrument while the other was not tracked, which caught people's attention. The average volume of methane measured in Gale Crater by the Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS) instrument carried by the Curiosity is less than one part per billion. NASA said in a statement: "This is equivalent to diluting a pinch of salt in an Olympic swimming pool." However, the ExoMars trace gas orbiter did not detect higher levels of methane in the Martian atmosphere.


Some scientists believe that when the rover moves forward, it can release gas by crushing rocks due to the aging of its wheels. However, an in-depth analysis of the machine showed that this chemical reaction did not occur when Curiosity moved.



Now, scientists are studying the difference between methane measurements by analyzing the time it takes to take the readings. The rover's TLS operates primarily at night, and no other Curiosity instruments are operating at the moment. Scientists have observed that the Martian atmosphere is calm at night, so methane seeping from the ground accumulates near the surface that Curiosity can detect.


However, the orbiter needs sunlight to determine methane about 5 kilometers above the surface.


When hot air rises and cold air sinks, heat from the sun stirs the atmosphere. Therefore, methane enclosed near the surface at night mixes with the wider atmosphere during the day, diluting it to undetectable levels. This will not cause any readings on the orbiter.


Scientists are now looking for why there is no methane in the Martian atmosphere, 95% of which is carbon dioxide. "Experiments are underway to test whether the extremely low-level discharge caused by dust in the Martian atmosphere will destroy methane, or whether the abundant oxygen on the surface of Mars will destroy methane quickly before it reaches the upper atmosphere." NASA in a statement.


The News Talkie Bureau


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