Methane spike could be sign of life on Mars

Rodiano Bonacci
Giugno 24, 2019

High amounts of methane that has been newly discovered in Martian air could be a sign of life underground on Mars.

"Given this surprising result, we've reorganized the weekend to run a follow-up experiment", project scientist Ashwni R. Vasavada said in an internal email obtained by the outlet. It's a particularly riveting discovery because the methane levels discovered by the rover are about three times higher than previous detections, leading to some speculation the gas may be biological in origin.

The results of this weekend's experiments are expected to be sent back to Earth on Monday. There is a possibility that some of that life may have survived and retreated deep into the ground.

According to the space agency, this could mean life actually does exist on Mars as methane is often generate by microbes underground known as methanogens.

"To maintain scientific integrity, the project science team will continue to analyze the data before confirming results", the project's spokesperson said.

Therefore any methane detected now by NASA must have been recently released. When methane was similarly detected on the surface of Mars in 2004, scientists said that the methane could also be generated by geothermal reactions involving water and heat, though the exact mechanism by which that could occur on Mars remained an open question.

It is also possible that the methane is ancient, trapped inside Mars for millions of years but escaping intermittently through cracks.

However, those findings were at the edge of these tools' detection power, and some researchers suspected the methane readings could have just been an illusion of mistaken data.

When Curiosity arrived on Mars in 2012, it looked for methane and found nothing, or at least less than 1 part per billion 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.

Scientists revealed the rover detected the largest amount of methane ever measured during the mission - about 21 parts per billion units by volume (ppbv). It seems that the rise and fall of methane gas is seasonal but the scientists at NASA do not have enough information on the reason yet.

Last week, Curiosity made its strongest detection of methane on Mars yet. He confirmed he had been told of the reading of 21 parts per billion but added that the finding was preliminary. When Curiosity first landed on Mars, there were no signs of methane, but in 2013 there was a sudden spike. There are other observations on earlier and subsequent dates, Giuranna said, including joint observations with the Trace Gas Orbiter.

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