This week, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover discovered a stunning consequence: the most important quantity of methane ever measured throughout the mission – about 21 components per billion models by quantity (ppbv). One ppbv signifies that for those who take a quantity of air on Mars, one billionth of the amount of air is methane.
The discovering got here from the rover’s Pattern Evaluation at Mars (SAM) tuneable laser spectrometer. It’s thrilling as a result of microbial life is a vital supply of methane on Earth, however methane will also be created by way of interactions between rocks and water.
Curiosity doesn’t have devices that may definitively say what the supply of the methane is, or even when it’s coming from an area supply inside Gale Crater or elsewhere on the planet.
“With our current measurements, we have no way of telling if the methane source is biology or geology, or even ancient or modern,” mentioned SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Heart in Greenbelt, Maryland.
The Curiosity crew has detected methane many occasions over the course of the mission. Earlier papers have documented how background ranges of the fuel appear to rise and fall seasonally. They’ve additionally famous sudden spikes of methane, however the science crew is aware of little or no about how lengthy these transient plumes final or why they’re completely different from the seasonal patterns.
The SAM crew organised a distinct experiment for this weekend to assemble extra data on what may be a transient plume. No matter they discover – even when it’s an absence of methane – will add context to the current measurement.
Curiosity’s scientists want time to analyse these clues and conduct many extra methane observations. In addition they want time to collaborate with different science groups, together with these with the European House Company’s Hint Gasoline Orbiter, which has been in its science orbit for just a little over a yr with out detecting any methane.
Combining observations from the floor and from orbit may assist scientists find sources of the fuel on the planet and perceive how lengthy it lasts within the Martian environment. Which may clarify why the Hint Gasoline Orbiter’s and Curiosity’s methane observations have been so completely different.