'Very Exciting': Scientists CONFIRM Existence of Possible Life-Sign Gas on Mars

Methane on Mars A New Discovery or Just a Lot of Hot Air

Methane on Mars A New Discovery or Just a Lot of Hot Air

But a Mars orbiter has confirmed the Curiosity Rover's famous discovery of methane gas - a chemical linked to life. Scientists still aren't sure how methane is removed from the atmosphere and becomes trapped in permafrost.

Despite some speculation over methane on Mars, a group of scientists chose to conduct an independent investigation to see if the gas might exist on the Red Planet.

On June 16, 2013, the Curiosity rover recorded a methane concentration of 5.78 parts per billion (ppb) in the Gale creator, while the Mars Express instrument recorded 15.5 ppb in the atmosphere above the crater, scientists said in the study.

That methane might exist on Mars is an issue of considerable debate.

The mystery of methane on Mars may finally be solved as scientists confirmed the presence of the life-indicating gas on the Red Planet as well as where it might have come from.

"Our finding constitutes the first independent confirmation of a methane detection", Marco Giuranna from the National Institute of Astrophysics in Rome told The Guardian.

In 2013, NASA's Curiosity rover detected a methane emission on Mars, something more recently determined to be cyclical based on the planet's seasons. Their findings suggest methane releases are extremely rare and that the gas swiftly disappears.

This is the first time that a methane detection on Mars has been confirmed independently, so this adds a whole new level of certainty.

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The study exploited a new observation technique, allowing the collection of several hundred measurements in one area over a short period of time.

With the orbiter's planetary fourier spectrometer (PFS), the scientists searched for methane in and nearby the Gale crater from December 2012 to July 2014.

This kind of thing happens on Earth, typically along tectonic faults and at natural gas deposits.

In an attempt to trace the source of the methane, the scientists divided up a wide region around Gale crater into a grid with squares 250km on each side. Meanwhile, geologists in the U.S. and Italy scrutinised the region around the crater for features that might release methane. Something similar may be happening on Mars, in this case, along the faults of the Aeolis Mensae region.

"In general we did not detect any methane, aside from 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", says Giuranna lead author of the paper reporting the results in Nature Geoscience today.

Methane was discovered in the Martian atmosphere more than a decade ago, and was thought to have been produced biologically by microorganisms or by abiotic geochemical reactions.

"We identified tectonic faults that might extend below a region proposed to contain shallow ice", study co-author Giuseppe Etiope from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology said in the ESA statement.

An global team of scientists comparing observations made by two separate spacecraft taken a day apart in 2013 have finally conclusively confirmed the presence of methane on Mars, following over a decade and a half of speculation after an ESA probe discovered the existence of trace elements of the compound on the Red Planet.

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