Scientists find probable source of methane on Mars


The mystery of methane on Mars can finally be solved when scientists confirmed on Monday the presence of the indicator gas of life on the Red Planet as well as where it might have come from.

In the 15 years since a European probe reported traces of the gas in the Martian atmosphere, debate over the accuracy of the readings showing methane, which on Earth is produced by simple life forms.

As methane gas dissipates relatively quickly – in about 12 years on Earth – and because of the difficulty of observing the atmosphere of Mars, many scientists questioned earlier studies that relied on a single set of data.

An international team of experts has now compared observations of two separate spacecrafts, separated only one day in 2013, to find independent evidence of methane on our neighboring planet.

In addition, they conducted two parallel experiments to determine the most likely source of methane on Mars to be an ice sheet east of Galé Crater – which was long assumed to be a dry lake.

"This is very exciting and quite unexpected," Marco Giuranna of the National Institute of Astrophysics in Rome told AFP.

"Two completely independent lines of research have pointed to the same general area of ​​the most likely source for methane."

Europe's Mars Express spacecraft measured 15.5 parts per billion in the atmosphere above the Gale crater on June 16, 2013. The presence of methane in the vicinity was confirmed by readings made 24 hours earlier by NASA's Curiosity rover.

Using the data, Giuranna and the team divided the region around the crater into a 250 by 250 km network.2.

One study conducted one million computer-mode emission scenarios for each section while another team studied images of the planet's surface for associated characteristics on Earth with methane release.

& # 39; Life indicator & # 39;

The most likely source was a sheet of methane frozen under a rock formation, which the team believes periodically ejects the gas into the atmosphere.

Giuranna said that while methane is a sign of life on Earth, its presence on Mars is not necessarily evidence of something similar on the Red Planet.

"Methane is important because it can be an indicator of microbial life," he said. "But life is not necessary to explain these detections because methane can be produced by abiotic processes."

"Although it is not a direct biosynthesis of life, methane can contribute to the habitability of the Martian settings, since certain types of microbes can use methane as a source of carbon and energy," he added.

Although there is no liquid water on Mars, the European Space Agency said in February that its imaging equipment showed more evidence of dried up river beds, suggesting that the Red Planet may have harbored simple organisms.

Giuranna said more research is needed to determine the extent of the methane ice sheet near Gale Crater.

If it is founded to be extensive, the methane it contains could "sustain a sustained human presence" on Mars as a possible source of fuel for industrial processes and a propellant to return manned missions to Earth, he said.

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