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Space & Astronomy

Mystery of methane on Mars deepens further

By T.K. Randall
December 23, 2018 · Comment icon 11 comments

Where has all the methane on Mars gone ? Image Credit: ESA
Despite the detection of methane in 2003 and 2014, the latest findings have revealed no evidence of it at all.
ESA's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which arrived at the Red Planet earlier this year, has been busy analyzing the Martian atmosphere for signs of methane - a gas that is associated with life here on Earth and that could also indicate the presence of organisms on Mars as well.

Given that both ESA's Mars Express orbiter and NASA's Curiosity rover had previously detected traces of methane, it seemed inevitable that the Trace Gas Orbiter would find it as well.

Oddly however, scientists have now revealed that the probe has found absolutely no evidence of methane in the atmosphere of Mars whatsoever - not even at the minute level of 50 parts per trillion.
Not all is necessarily lost however, as it could simply be that the methane on Mars is seeping out from below the surface on a periodic basis, which may also explain why Curiosity didn't detect a methane spike until several months in to its mission.

It may just be a matter of time before the Trace Gas Orbiter detects it as well.

Perhaps then it will finally be possible to determine exactly where it is coming from.

Source: | Comments (11)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #2 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 5 years ago
The sandstorm has subsided. It would not remove methane from the atmosphere, so if it was still there, it should still be detectable.
Comment icon #3 Posted by DanL 5 years ago
Maybe Martians don't fart very often...
Comment icon #4 Posted by Nnicolette 5 years ago
My first thought was could it freeze? But its not quite cold enough on mars. You know what easily absorbs methane though? Plant life.
Comment icon #5 Posted by SD455GTO 5 years ago
Yes, of course, much like most women on earth who claim to NEVER fart at all.
Comment icon #6 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 5 years ago
Even if it was cold enough deposits of frozen methane on the surface would probably be easier to spot than trace amounts of gas in the atmosphere.  Do you know what is a SOURCE of methane? Plant life.
Comment icon #7 Posted by keithisco 5 years ago
Trees also absorb methane on Earth ( Source: ) and I'm betting that serpentinization production of methane (needs H2O) is the more likely as the peaks have been observed during Mars summer
Comment icon #8 Posted by Nnicolette 5 years ago
Yes i know it isnt cold enough to freeze methane there it and that it would still be there it was just the first possible explanation i explored. Also im guessing to be elusive the plant life may be more akin to bacteria than to tree trunks that can release some of the methane that plants generally absorb. You are citing that it is possible for plants to release methane which means the spikes would be encompassed by this possibility. If there are plants and they release a bit during a particular season but also are capable of reabsorbing it as plants do earth, then we would have a fitting expl... [More]
Comment icon #9 Posted by thelion318 5 years ago
OK let's ignore -80 average temperature, the .1% (20% on earth) oxygen level, the 95%CO2 level (on earth it's 0.0391) and the barren wasteland we've seen from satellites as well as rovers and pretend it's a place with plant life for us all to live on after we destroy earth.  
Comment icon #10 Posted by keithisco 5 years ago
Rather than "pretend" why not look at the extremophiles here on earth and then ask whether life is possible on Mars. Life may exist there at extreme depths where temperatures are higher and atmospheric pressure higher. Anaerobic bacteria may well thrive in such environments so your focusing on the surface of Mars is not entirely with merit. Plants can be single celled or multi cellular higher forms may be irrelevant to the seasonal production of methane (if that is what it is) and a lack of understanding of the ways that life pre-dominates is not a sufficient premise on which to base your "arg... [More]
Comment icon #11 Posted by cyclopes500 5 years ago
It wouldn't be from fragments from that comet that went past Mars would it. I'm picturing gas filled ice boulders part melting and refreezing. Remember Mars atmosphere is extremely thin and they'd get through. Also if I remember rightly the satellites were moved behind the planet to avoid a possible debris trail following it. The craft might not have detected it. The other thing I'm thinking about is the other old Viking landers and the retro stuff inside the failed Russian stuff. It wouldn't be propellants leaking from them and changing once they encounter Mars soil. Lastly I'm wondering if t... [More]

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