Curiosity Finds No Methane in Atmosphere of Mars
NASA scientists reported Thursday that the Mars rover Curiosity has not found any clear signs of methane, a gas that on our planet is a strong indicator of life.
This is an artist’s concept of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft approaching Mars. The Curiosity rover is safely tucked inside the spacecraft’s aeroshell. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.
Methane is the most abundant hydrocarbon in the Solar System. 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.
Using the Tunable Laser Spectrometer on Curiosity, the researchers performed six tests to search for traces of methane in Martian air from October 2012 through June 2013 and detected none.
Given the sensitivity of the instrument and not detecting the gas, they calculate the amount of methane in the Martian atmosphere today must be no more than 1.3 parts per billion. That is about one-sixth as much as some earlier estimates.
“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. We measured repeatedly from Martian spring to late summer, but with no detection of methane,” said Dr Chris Webster of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, who is a lead author of the study published in the journal Science.
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