News from NASA’s Curiosity Rover has given an interesting picture of the planet’s methane. First the methane levels in the Gale Crater were lower than expected. However, scientists were surprised to see sudden spike in methane levels once in a while. NASA researchers are now saying that the source of the Methane is somewhere nearby but they are still not sure where.
The results were published in Science and shows that we have a lot more about the Martian atmosphere. Readings from the Rover revealed that the Methane levels were about half of what the scientists were predicting. The scientists had calculated the expected methane levels after taking into account all the natural processes that should be creating methane on the surface.
Curiosity’s project scientist, John Grotzinger, said in a news conference at the American Geophysical Union meeting Tuesday that it was very exciting that methane is present in the Martian atmosphere even though it’s not proof of life on its own. Methane is present consistently at low levels to the tune of about 0.7 parts per billion by volume, sudden spikes registering 10 times or higher than background levels has had the scientific community speculating about its origin. Scientists have gone to the extent of suggesting the existence of past or present life on the planet.
95% of all methane which is present on Earth originates from Microbial Organism and this has led scientists to speculate that the spikes in the concentration of methane detected by Rover could be due to the presence of Martian life.
However scientists are suggesting that the sudden spikes in the methane could be due to the release of the gas from underground stores known as clatharates.
Professor Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan told the BBC, “These are molecular cages of water-ice in which methane gas is trapped. From time to time, these could be destabilized, perhaps by some mechanical or thermal stress, and the methane gas would be released to find its way up through cracks or fissures in the rock to enter the atmosphere.”