A methane stream discovered by NASA on Mars may have been released from a layer of ever-frozen material containing bubbles of gas that has been broken by a geological event, researchers say.
identifies a potential source of methane on Mars, although the scientific community is still divided on whether gas is actually produced on the planet. Some say the discovery of methane on Mars is fake or has come from other sources, such as the rover itself.
On June 1
The apparent presence of methane on Mars fueled intense speculation that gas could escape from microbial Martians below the surface, although a more prosaic explanation indicates a reaction between the Olivian rocks and the water. Both processes release gas on Earth.
In the latest study, Marco Jorranna and colleagues from the National Institute of Astrophysics in Rome turned to a Mars Express instrument of the European Space Agency to look for more evidence of methane on Mars. Scientists used the planetary FFS to search for methane in and around Gale's crater from December 2012 to July 2014. The instrument noticed methane only once, the same day Curiosity discovered the sudden leap in the gas. "Our finding is the first independent confirmation of methane detection," said Dzhuran. "Before our study, the detection of methane on Mars, whether it was in place, orbiting, or telescopes on Earth, were not confirmed by independent observations."
While the Curiosity rotor measured a methane concentration of 5.78 parts per billion (ppb) in Gail's crater on June 16, 2013, the Mars Express tool registers 15.5ppb in the atmosphere column above the crater, scientists said in Nature Geoscience.
In an attempt to trace the source of methane, scientists divide a wide area around the Gail crater in a grid of 250 squares on each side. Researchers at the Royal Belgian Space Aeronautics Institute in Brussels used computer models to simulate a million different emission scenarios in each square. Meanwhile, geologists in the United States and Italy have explored the area around the crater for features that could release methane. "It is remarkable that we have seen that the atmospheric simulation and the geological evaluation carried out independently of each other suggest the same region of origin of methane, which is about 500 km east of Gail," Juraanna said. The site, known as Aeolis Mensae, has a number of geological faults that may have destroyed the nearby permafrost and release all the methanes captured inside. Alternatively, incoming meteorites may have broken the ice open
The study does not speculate about the ultimate origin of methane on Mars, but Giuranna said source redirect is the first step to the answer. Even if microbes were not the culprit, he said, the gas will make the planet more habitable because it can be used as a source of carbon and energy. People could also use methane caught under Martian soil to produce chemicals and rocket fuel
The results are likely to drive debate about the existence of Martian methane. In December, investigators working on the ExoMars Trace Gas (TGO) of the European Space Agency said they had not found methane in the Martian atmosphere since the spacecraft arrived in orbit in 2016. Their findings show that the methane release is extremely rare and that gas is fast
"The findings are somewhat surprising," says Manis Patel, an open university researcher working on the TGO mission. "Comparing these results to what we see with specially designed methane hunting tools at TGO will tell us a lot."
The TGO mission, which can potentially distinguish microbial and geological methane sources, will release its results next week.
"Verifying Curiosity's observations from the PFS tool gives us a lot to think about," Patel said. "Let's just say that it will make an interesting discussion in the community when we try to solve the observations of existing and new measurements of methane on Mars.
"As always, Mars and the scientists studying it still have many surprises in their sleeves."