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.


 
 

 

Headlines December 22, 2014

News: Report: DOD bomb hunters pried into U.S. firms, citizens - During some of the bloodiest days of U.S. combat in Afghanistan and the roadside bomb threat there, the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization “improperly collected” intelligence on U.S. citizens and corporations to try to stem the threat, a Pentagon Inspector General report has found.  ...
 
 

News Briefs December 22, 2014

U.K., Canadian military leaves to join Ebola fight Reservists and troops from Britain and Canada have left for Sierra Leone to help in the battle to contain the Ebola virus outbreak. British officials said Dec. 20 that 16 reservists and 100 regular military personnel left on a morning flight from the Brize Norton military airbase....
 
 
Boeing photograph

Boeing, Malaysia Airlines celebrate 100th 737 delivery

Boeing photograph Boeing and Malaysia Airlines celebrated the direct delivery of the airline’s 100th 737 aircraft at an event in Seattle. Shown here Aminuddin Zakaria, senior vice president, airline engineering group, Malaysi...
 

 

Navy helicopter crashes in Kuwait; all crewmembers ok

A U.S. Navy MH-60S helicopter assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 26 (HSC 26) crashed at 11:22 a.m., EST, Dec.21, while on an overland training flight at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. All six personnel aboard the helicopter survived the crash and were transported to nearby medical facilities for evaluation. Three of the six crewmembers sustained minor...
 
 

AMC relocates KC-135 simulator

As Air Mobility Command fields the KC-46A Pegasus, displaced KC-135 Stratotanker pilot simulators will be relocated across the Total Force to maximize simulator access across the mobility enterprise. As a result, AMC, in coordination with the Air National Guard, recently identified four KC-135 pilot flight simulators and one KC-135 Boom Operator Weapons System Trainer to...
 
 

SpaceX completes first milestone for Commercial Crew Transportation System

NASA has approved the completion of SpaceX’s first milestone in the company’s path toward launching crews to the International Space Station from U.S. soil under a Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract with the agency. During the Certification Baseline Review, SpaceX described its current design baseline including how the company plans to manufacture its Crew Dragon spacecraft...
 




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>