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Space & Astronomy

Mystery surrounds hunt for methane on Mars

By T.K. Randall
April 11, 2019 · Comment icon 4 comments

Where did Mars' methane come from and where did it go ? Image Credit: ESA
Despite methane being detected on Mars previously, more recent scans have revealed no sign of it at all.
The hunt for methane on Mars is particularly significant because here on Earth, it is one of the key indicators of biological life; a single cow can produce up to 200 liters of the stuff every single day.

Earlier this month, the results of a six-year study confirmed beyond any reasonable doubt that methane does (or at least did) exist on Mars back in June 2013 when both the Curiosity rover and the Mars Express orbiter independently picked up traces of the gas in the same region at the same time.

Recent scans by the far more sensitive Trace Gas Orbiter spacecraft however have turned up absolutely no trace of methane whatsoever. So where did it all go ?
It's an enigma that continues to stump scientists and one that ties in to the question of exactly what it was on Mars that produced the gas when it was picked up six years ago.

"If we take the previous measurements at face value, and we obviously believe our own results - then there's something going on in the atmosphere between those two points in time, and it's something we don't predict," said Dr Manish Patel from the UK's Open University.

"We expect methane to hang around in the atmosphere of Mars for hundreds of years. It's destroyed by sunlight, but it's destroyed over relatively long time-scales in terms of human observation."

"Whatever was there before should still be there today, even if at a diluted level."

Source: BBC News | Comments (4)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by RoofGardener 5 years ago
Perhaps somebody opened a window ?
Comment icon #2 Posted by bison 5 years ago
We know of microorganisms on Earth, which consume methane as food. Perhaps there's a whole ecology on Mars. Some organisms produce methane, and others consume it. We may have detected methane at one time, because its production got a bit ahead of consumption, for a while. 
Comment icon #3 Posted by tmcom 5 years ago
Probably explains all of those green things the rover keeps passing?
Comment icon #4 Posted by cyclopes500 5 years ago
I'm wondering if its oil and natural gas causing it. In the beginning 2-3 billion years ago Earth had a methane atmosphere. Life started in it. I'm wondering if the same happened on Mars. The primitive bacteria lived and died in the seas of Mars. When they died they took the material they were made up of to the Marsian sea bed. Over the eons it mounted up, but unlike Earth, the planet Mars died because the volcanism stopped and the magnetic field protecting the planet and its atmosphere went with it. Probably after life that could photosynthise CO2 appeared. The oxygen released turned the iron... [More]

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