The strange jigsaw puzzle of methane on Mars continues. Earlier, NASA's finds something odd: detecting fluke levels of methane in the Martian atmosphere, although an orbital companion, ESA's trace orb did not find any evidence of methane using highly sensitive levels of detection. Subsequently, the mission of ESA Mars Express uses a new detection technique to find that methane is only present in a very short space of time in certain locations.
Now Curiosity has discovered the highest levels of methane at 21
Methane levels are important because gas can be produced by microbes. It is theoretically believed that life can exist beneath the surface of Mars, which produces gas, which then goes to the surface in the jets. However, methane can also be produced by geological effects of interacting rocks and water and in the same way come out on the surface. Unfortunately, Curiosity has no way of knowing if the methane it detects originates from biological or geological processes
In a subsequent experiment, the Curiosity scientists found that methane levels later drastically reduced to less than 1 part billion. volume units. This level is similar to the background levels that Curiosity usually sees, suggesting that the previous leap of methane was only temporary. This supports the idea of transitional methane sputums, which occur occasionally and apparently arbitrarily, in addition to the seasonal fluctuations in methane levels that have already been recorded.
"The mystery of methane continues," Ashwin Vassavada, a scientist in the NASA reactive movement lab project, said in a statement. "We are more motivated than ever to continue to measure and accumulate brains to understand how methane behaves in the Martian atmosphere."
The next step is for Curiosity researchers to collaborate with the Trace Gas Orbiter team to combine data from both the surface and the orbit of Mars. This can help determine the source of methane jets and determine how long the gas stays in the atmosphere.