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Curiosity fails to find methane on Mars


Posted on Wednesday, 25 September, 2013 | Comment icon 14 comments


Curiosity will continue to take readings to monitor for signs of methane. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Mars rover has been unable to find any significant amount of methane in Mars' atmosphere.

The hunt for methane is important because methane is generally considered to be a possible indicator of the presence of life. Recent observations from telescopes on Earth seemed to suggest that there was methane on Mars, but the readings from Curiosity have defused the excitement somewhat.

"Ninety percent of the methane of Earth's atmosphere originate from microbes," said Canadian Astrology chairman Lyle Whyte. "That's why people got excited about methane in Mars' atmosphere."

The original methane readings had been made by NASA planetary scientist Michael Mumma who had used observations from both the Keck Observatory and the Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii. "When we saw the methane plumes, we saw values range from 20 to 60 parts per billion," he said. "Curiosity's upper limit is only 1.4 parts per billion."

What does all this mean for the possibility of finding life on Mars ? While we don't necessarily need to find methane for there to be life on Mars, this latest setback makes it less likely that we will find anything living there. "It's not a definitive sign saying that there is no life on Mars, but it's not a good sign," said Whyte.

   
Source: Yahoo! News | Comments (14)

Tags: Mars, Curiosity


 
Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #5 Posted by Frank Merton on 20 September, 2013, 6:33
Methane is a biological product; I don't know that anything needs it to live, but I'd like to be so informed if I'm wrong. Yes I would say that the business of living can be conducted without producing methane, just not if you are a cow.
Comment icon #6 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 20 September, 2013, 11:00
Your question, given that you had mentioned both methane and the search for life in the previous sentence, was ambiguous. It can be, but it can also be produced by non-biological means such as the oxidation of iron. Even if methane had been detected it would not, therefore, have constituted proof of life. The problem for the scientists now is to account for the discrpency in the findings. Positive results were obtained by Earth based telescopes and the European Mars Express orbiter. Either the original findings or the new findings are wrong OR there is an unknown process occurring on Mar... [More]
Comment icon #7 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 20 September, 2013, 11:53
Frank is quite right, methane is a product of life, an indicator that is is there rather than a requirement. It is not a by-product of all life, so not finding methane is not evidence that Mars is devoid of life. Frank's answer got me wondering if there were bacteria which required methane, and it turns out there are, Methanotrophs: You learn something new every day.
Comment icon #8 Posted by Big Bad Voodoo on 23 September, 2013, 21:10
NASA Curiosity Rover Detects No Methane On Mars
Comment icon #9 Posted by The New Richard Nixon on 23 September, 2013, 22:02
cries
Comment icon #10 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 23 September, 2013, 22:39
I assume you are crying because of the title that Big Bad Voodoo give his thread (which I merged with the pre-existing thread). He called it "No Life On Mars". I shouldn't worry about that too much. The title was deceptive. Lack of methane excludes only the presence of methane producing bacteria. Many bacteria produce no methane, hence this is not evidence of an absence of life on Mars. What it actually is is a failure to find evidence of a particular type of life on Mars.
Comment icon #11 Posted by WelshRed on 25 September, 2013, 11:27
Frank Merton said "Methane is a biological product" Yes but it can also be a geological product so even finding methane would not confirm anything only enhance the "possibility" of life. I want there to life on Mars as much as anyone trust me but this is a blow for sure. Also the rovers location does not matter, if methane was being produced it "should" be detectable anywhere on the planet as it would be carried on the winds all over the planet (just like mars' notorious dust storms).
Comment icon #12 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 25 September, 2013, 12:27
It's a setback but not a catastrophic one. Not all life produces methane so this does not constitutes proof of the absence of life. What it does do is open a whole new can of worms... why was methane detected previously? As is so often the case space missions like this don't answer questions, but they do help us to know which questions to ask. There will be more than one PhD thesis written as a result of these findings.
Comment icon #13 Posted by Asadora on 25 September, 2013, 13:11
I hope we don't find evidence/proof of any life having ever existed on Mars - because that would mean we are still behind the Great Filter. So, personally I'm hoping to find absolutely nothing.
Comment icon #14 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 25 September, 2013, 14:01
Discovering life on Mars would not change anything in relation to the Great Filter hypothesis, not least because it has no evidence to support it anyway. It is just one of many arguments against, or attempting to explain, the Fermi Paradox. If there is truth to the Great Filter hypothesis then we are where we are. The discovery (or not) of life on Mars would change nothing.


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