Methane Spike Recently Discovered on Mars
NASA’s Curiosity rover recently discovered a methane spike on Mars, an event which has been confirmed by the Mars Express Orbiter. The presence of methane is further evidence that Mars could have sustained life, and lends support to the ongoing search for life on the planet. While this new discovery is not definitive proof, it could lead to more targeted explorations and studies.
In the past, NASA noticed two signals indicating the presence of methane in 2013, once in June and then again towards the end of the year and into 2014. It was determined that “background levels of methane in Mars’ atmosphere cycle seasonally, peaking in the northern summer,” as detailed in Scientific American.
Methane is said to have a short lifetime in the Mars atmosphere, so scientists suspect it was extricated recently. Marco Giuranna, principal investigator for the PFS, says that there was “one definite detection of about 15 parts per billion by volume of methane in the atmosphere, which turned out to be a day after Curiosity reported a spike of about six parts per billion.”
Fifteen parts per billion is only a small amount methane, but it is a relatively significant amount for Mars which generally has no detectable methane. Giuranna and his team have tracked the source of these spikes to a region about 310 miles (500 kilometers) east of Gale Crater.
Scientists are unsure as to the cause of the recent surge, though some researchers believe that the methane could have been created by microorganisms confined in the ice. There are also geological systems, such as serpentinisation, that can lead to the production of methane. Another proposed theory is Gas Seepage, a process known to transpire frequently on Earth.