Space

September 20, 2013

NASA Curiosity rover detects no methane on Mars

Data from NASA’s Curiosity rover has revealed the Martian environment lacks methane. This is a surprise to researchers because previous data reported by U.S. and international scientists indicated positive detections.

The roving laboratory performed extensive tests to search for traces of Martian methane. Whether the Martian atmosphere contains traces of the gas has been a question of high interest for years because methane could be a potential sign of life, although it also can be produced without biology.

“This important result will help direct our efforts to examine the possibility of life on Mars,” said Michael Meyer, NASA’s lead scientist for Mars exploration. “It reduces the probability of current methane-producing Martian microbes, but this addresses only one type of microbial metabolism. As we know, there are many types of terrestrial microbes that don’t generate methane.”

Curiosity analyzed samples of the Martian atmosphere for methane six times from October 2012 through June and detected none. Given the sensitivity of the instrument used, the Tunable Laser Spectrometer, and not  detecting the gas, scientists calculate the amount of methane in the Martian atmosphere today must be no more than 1.3 parts per billion, which is about one-sixth as much as some earlier estimates. Details of the findings appear in the Thursday edition of Science Express.

“It would have been exciting to find methane, but we have high confidence in our measurements, and the progress in expanding knowledge is what’s really important,” said the report’s lead author, Chris Webster of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “We measured repeatedly from Martian spring to late summer, but with no detection of methane.”

Webster is the lead scientist for spectrometer, which is part of Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars laboratory. It can be tuned specifically for detection of trace methane. The laboratory also can concentrate any methane to increase the gas’ ability to be detected. The rover team will use this method to check for methane at concentrations well below 1 part per billion.

Methane, the most abundant hydrocarbon in our solar system, has one carbon atom bound to four hydrogen atoms in each molecule. Previous reports of localized methane concentrations up to 45 parts per billion on Mars, which sparked interest in the possibility of a biological source on Mars, were based on observations from Earth and from orbit around Mars. However, the measurements from Curiosity are not consistent with such concentrations, even if the methane had dispersed globally.

“There’s no known way for methane to disappear quickly from the atmosphere,” said one of the paper’s co-authors, Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan. “Methane is persistent. It would last for hundreds of years in the Martian atmosphere. Without a way to take it out of the atmosphere quicker, our measurements indicate there cannot be much methane being put into the atmosphere by any mechanism, whether biology, geology, or by ultraviolet degradation of organics delivered by the fall of meteorites or interplanetary dust particles.”

The highest concentration of methane that could be present without being detected by Curiosity’s measurements so far would amount to no more than 10 to 20 tons per year of methane entering the Martian atmosphere, Atreya estimated. That is about 50 million times less than the rate of methane entering Earth’s atmosphere.

Curiosity landed inside Gale Crater on Mars in August 2012 and is investigating evidence about habitable environments there. JPL manages the mission and built the rover for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The rover’s Sample Analysis at Mars suite of instruments was developed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., with instrument contributions from Goddard, JPL and the University of Paris in France.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA image

NASA spacecraft becomes first to orbit a dwarf planet

NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA image Ceres is seen from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on March 1, just a few days before the mission achieved orbit around the previously unexplored dwarf planet. The image was taken at a dista...
 
 
nasa-obit

Astronaut, astrophysicist F. Curtin Michel Dies at 80

Former Astronaut Curtis Michel, 80, a member of the astronaut class of 1965 and renowned astrophysicist, died Feb. 26, at his home in Houston. Michel (pronounced My-kull) was selected as an Apollo Program astronaut in June 1965...
 
 
NASA/GSFC image

NASA research suggests Mars once had more water than Earth’s Arctic Ocean

NASA/GSFC image NASA scientists have determined that a primitive ocean on Mars held more water than Earth’s Arctic Ocean and that the Red Planet has lost 87 percent of that water to space. A primitive ocean on Mars held m...
 

 
Image courtesy of NASA/CXC/DSS/Magellan

NASA’s Chandra Observatory finds cosmic showers halt galaxy growth

Image courtesy of NASA/CXC/DSS/Magellan A study of over 200 galaxy clusters, including Abell 2597 shown here, with NASAís Chandra X-ray Observatory has revealed how an unusual form of cosmic precipitation stifles star formatio...
 
 
Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

NASA spacecraft nears historic dwarf planet arrival

Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA NASA’s Dawn spacecraft took these images of dwarf planet Ceres from about 25,000 miles away Feb. 25, 2015. Ceres appears half in shadow because of the current position o...
 
 

Northrop Grumman’s AstroMesh reflector successfully deploys for NASA’s SMAP satellite

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory successfully deployed the mesh reflector and boom aboard the Soil Moisture Active Passive spacecraft, a key milestone on its mission to provide global measurements of soil moisture. Launched Jan. 31, SMAP represents the future of Earth Science by helping researchers better understand our planet. SMAP’s unmatched data capabilities are enabled...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>