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Space & Astronomy

Rover detects mystery methane spike on Mars

By T.K. Randall
June 23, 2019 · Comment icon 18 comments

Where is the methane on Mars coming from ? Image Credit: NASA
NASA's long-lived Curiosity rover picked up the sudden and unexpected spike of methane on Wednesday.
"Startlingly high amounts" of the gas, which has long been associated with the presence of biological life, have reportedly been detected, however it is so far unclear where it might be coming from.

The discovery of methane on Mars is particularly interesting because methane breaks down and disappears over a relatively small amount of time, meaning that it must have been produced recently.
The methane levels in this case are three times higher than they were when the Curiosity rover previously detected the gas on Mars back in 2013.

According to reports, the sudden discovery has prompted NASA scientists to re-organize the rover's schedule to run follow-up experiments over the next few days.

Determining exactly where the methane is coming from however is likely to prove a challenge.

Source: Gizmodo | Comments (18)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #9 Posted by Not A Rockstar 5 years ago
Well, if someone believes in ET visiting, your plunge won't make a difference to that belief a bit. I just hope for life to be found elsewhere. The whole new science that would open, of finding something that began same as here and is evolving differently elsewhere intrigues me. If reincarnation is true, I wouldn't mind coming back and studying that for a career, I think, if we are taking this topic off the original rails..  Or maybe be a real rock star, for once. IDK  
Comment icon #10 Posted by bison 5 years ago
Even microbial life on Mars would be a scientific earthquake. That's why this story is noteworthy, even if that life, as indicated, is a mere possibility, at the moment.  If life should be found on Mars it would be possible, eventually, to get a sense of the connection, or the lack of it between life on the two worlds.   If all life on Earth originated on Mars, or all life on Mars came from Earth, then there would be an apparent 'family resemblance' between life on the two worlds; the same sort of genetic likeness that is known to connect all known life on Earth. If that resemblance... [More]
Comment icon #11 Posted by and then 5 years ago
Martian cow farts?  The Greenies will be losin they miiiinnds 
Comment icon #12 Posted by DieChecker 5 years ago
Are the scientists worried about Martian Global Warming?  Did they limit where the methane came from, geographically? I mean, it would have to be right next to the rover to be close enough to go check on.  
Comment icon #13 Posted by bison 5 years ago
Apparently the methane release site in in Gale crater, relatively near the Curiosity rover. They could be trying to better define the location, right now. If they moved the rover a bit, and the concentration of methane went up, they would have a possible indication of the right direction to it. If the methane level went down, they'd know to move in the opposite direction. A series of such maneuvers, in various directions, could take them to the exact spot.   
Comment icon #14 Posted by tmcom 5 years ago
The greenies should go to Venus! Yes, quite! NASA is discussing how to whitewash this as we speak, and ignore the plant on the left.
Comment icon #15 Posted by bison 5 years ago
The methane spike disappeared before Curiosity could re-observe it. There's an outside chance that the Mars Express Orbiter observed the spike, too. It will apparently be a while before it downloads its data to Earth.  An increase of methane, of this concentration (~20 parts per billion by volume) could probably enable the Trace Gas Orbiter to distinguish between its carbon 12 and carbon 13.  An unexpected excess of carbon 12 could indicate that the source of the methane is life. Living things selectively take up the lighter isotope and concentrate it in their metabolism.  
Comment icon #16 Posted by Skulduggery 5 years ago
If the source is life, could it be something like algae? I am not sure how much methane that is by numbers. I have my faults. Other, more advanced life may not be recognizable if it is even possible to find. I would suspect underground might have something going on.
Comment icon #17 Posted by Skulduggery 5 years ago
Basically, asking how big of a spike this really is and what is it comparable to here on Earth as far as organism bio markers go. Not that it would be the same but there may be archetypes.
Comment icon #18 Posted by bison 5 years ago
By itself, the Curiosity rover can't distinguish between methane from living and merely geological sources on Mars.  The concentration of methane in Earth's atmosphere is approximately one hundred times greater than the recent methane spike on Mars, and is chiefly due to biological organisms.  This seems to suggest that if the methane on Mars is due to living things, it represents sparse life, in comparison to Earth. This is largely in accord with scenarios for life on Mars, where it began under more favorable conditions earlier in Mars' history, and is now merely 'holding on', presumably ... [More]

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