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Mars Science

Has the Mars Rover Sniffed Methane? 119

Posted by samzenpus
from the smells-like-gene-spirit dept.
First time accepted submitter GrimAndBearIt writes "NASA's Curiosity rover is poised to settle years of debate on the question of atmospheric methane on Mars, which would be a sign of microbial life. With parts per trillion sensitivity, it's not so much a question of whether the rover will be able to smell trace amounts of methane, but rather a question of how much. NASA has announced that Grotzinger's team will discuss atmospheric measurements at a briefing on 2 November. If the rover has detected methane at sufficiently high concentration, or exhibiting temporal variations of the kind that suggests microbial activity, then it will surely motivate a desire to identify and map the sources."
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Has the Mars Rover Sniffed Methane?

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  • Wow how sad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Friday November 02, 2012 @06:04AM (#41851145)

    8 posts so far, 8 fart jokes. I see space exploration is truly inspiring to Slashdot geeks...

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 02, 2012 @06:11AM (#41851159)

      Maybe the methane came from Uranus?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Not only that - said jokes are really plain and primitive. You can make a wide variety of jokes starting from "yo mama" (yo mama is so fat, that even the rover on Mars smelt her methane), all through "Uranus" jokes (to precisely detect methane you'll have to send the rover to Uranus), to some more abstract (let's hope that Mars is not a really shy planet, otherwise it'll become even more Red Planet if we manage to find methane there) and so on.

      Even if not funny by themselves, these jokes at least be somew
      • Considering that fart humor is a longstanding tradition (even the great Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca is on record with a fart joke or two), all I have to say is:
        Whomever criticizes my verse made the atmosphere worse!

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        And yet we get something on a level of a dumb teenager.

        Judging by the recent proliferation of folks who don't know when and when not to use an spostrophe, don't know who's from whose, or their from there, refusal to use capitalization, I'd say there are way too many ignorant teenagers here.

      • Sure, the fart jokes are devoid of any real wit. OTOH, your post reminds me of the scene in "Good morning Vietnam" where the "red leather, yellow leather" guy tries to convince everyone he "knows funny".
      • by Zeromous (668365)

        I called TBS and operators have confirmed farts are indeed funny. I'm not sure why we are discussing it.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Manned space exploration is inspiring. Sending out a bunch of probes .... not so much.

      SpaceX has spent just $1 Billion in 10 years, and is looking by far the leading contender for landing the first man on Mars. The Mars Curiosity project costed $2.5 Billion. NASA's Orion spacecraft will probably be cancelled the moment a new President steps into office, replaced with a new project designed to redistribute pork-barrel money.

      NASA's greatest recent achievement was providing approx $500 Million of funding to Sp

      • by Rockoon (1252108)
        This is because NASA's mission was changed from "win the space race" to "shovel money derived from runaway deficits into the coffers of favored corporations" sometime around 1990 (+/- 4 years)
    • Re:Wow how sad (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Lord Lode (1290856) on Friday November 02, 2012 @07:32AM (#41851445)

      Maybe it's because the article title uses the word "Sniffed" rather than, for example, "Detected".

    • by tgd (2822)

      8 posts so far, 8 fart jokes. I see space exploration is truly inspiring to Slashdot geeks...

      I'd be willing to bet a good number of them have been made at NASA and JPL, too.

      Fart jokes are like love -- they're a universal language that binds us all together.

    • by Shotgun (30919)

      Well, we didn't start it. [youtube.com]

    • Lighten up Francis! Not on Mars of course, we don't want our probes exploding.

  • Some robot on Mars sniff it, and on Earth people get excited.
  • by meglon (1001833) on Friday November 02, 2012 @06:14AM (#41851175)
    to go with a set of small, dedicated probes that can only do a few things (say mass spec, air sampling, basic instruments) that have no mobility. They'd be loaded in bulk onto a platform to go from Earth to Mars, then into orbit. As it orbits, the platform drops the probes off at certain intervals, or in certain specific places. You could have a mix of probes doing different things, and use the one that would give the most information for that area; hell, you ould make it refillable, and send more as needed.

    More limited than a rover, but much less expensive, and a lot less that could go wrong.... with a lot larger coverage area.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I think the easiest part of the experiment is the rover. Getting delicate scientific instruments to survive the trip is challenging, and getting them integrated a space system is brutal.

    • Oh great, littering on another planet before we even step foot on it! No wonder aliens haven't contacted us yet. They don't want us filling up their planet with our junk!
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 02, 2012 @08:22AM (#41851677)

        Seriously? Do you have any idea just how fricking big a planet is? Although smaller than Earth, Mars is HHHUUUUGGGEEEE on human scales. And it is all empty. Barren. Desolate. Look out your window now, and imagine all the buildings, roads, people, animals, plants, rivers, oceans... everything except for the dirt and the rocks.. gone. All the way to the horizon. Just barren, rocky nothingness. Now imagine that from the horizon to the next horizon. And again, and again, and again. Imagine walking or driving for weeks or months through that landscape, seeing nothing but rocks, rocks, dirt and rocks. And you thought it was a long way down the road to the chemist.

        Do you really think a few tiny bits of technology scattered here and there - hundreds or thousands of miles apart - are really going to spoil the view? And for who exactly? If there is life on Mars it's not exactly going to be worried about property prices. You could strip-mine an area the size of Brazil into a toxic sludgepile and still have infinitely more square kilometres of perfectly-preserved rocky boringness left over than you'd know what to do with.

        The hard truth is, most of space is dead, dead, dead. There might be a lot of question marks in the Drake equation, but even with the most optimistic numbers, most of the of the worlds in this galaxy are just drab, sterile rocks floating in a vacuum, with nothing better to offer existence than to be explored and exploited by us. Undoubtedly there are pristine habitats and natural wonders out there worthy of preservation. Olympus Mons almost certainly counts among them. The Valles Marineres too, and doubtless other sites yet to be discovered. Yet another Martian plain, however, does not warrant UNESCO galactic heritage status, and even if it did I would still dispute your assertion that a little remote-controlled buggy driving over it is somehow ruining it forever.

        And besides, even if we did find life on another world- not even intelligent or even multicellular life- then you can bet your luddite ass that NASA and their counterparts in other space programs would be insanely respectful of it. If Curiosity digs up a microbe on Mars, they'd be extra-triple sure their next mission was even less likely to bring Earth organisms to the planet than the last. Hell, they would probably seriously question whether to send anything else to the surface at all. And not just because they wouldn't want to contaminate the science - they'd do it because that microbe is important in its own right, and it would be wrong for us to jeopardise its survival, and because Mars rightfully belongs to the microbes.

        Trying to portray our planet's space scientists as inconsiderate jerks firing shit up into space willy-nilly like a bunch of rednecks with a stack of beercans and a skeetshooter does no justice at all to a group of thoughtful, intelligent and passionate people who value the beauty and majesty of the heavens a thousand times more than you or I ever will.

        • by rainhill (86347)

          jesus man.. u could have written a book with all that.

        • They are a group of thoughtful, intelligent and passionate people who value the beauty and majesty of beercans a thousand times more than you or I ever will.

        • by Rexdude (747457)

          The Valles Marineres too, and doubtless other sites yet to be discovered. Yet another Martian plain, however, does not warrant UNESCO galactic heritage status, and even if it did I would still dispute your assertion that a little remote-controlled buggy driving over it is somehow ruining it forever.

          Interesting you mentioned this, as it is depicted as a constant point of conflict in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy [wikimedia.org] - where one group of settlers is violently opposed to the ongoing terraforming of Mars and argue that humans have no right to change its pristine state.

          Speaking of the Drake equation, I think we have to content ourselves with exploring whatever prospect of life there is in our solar system only. If not Mars then Europa holds the next big hope of finding life in its ice locked sea. All the

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      > More limited than a rover, but much less expensive, and a lot less that could go wrong.... with a lot larger coverage area.

      To be fair, not much has gone wrong with the rovers. OK, a bit fell off this one but it still seems to be functioning OK, and I hardly need to remind you of spirit and opportunity's track records.

      All the Mars mission failures so far have occurred in space. That's the bit we need to work on.

      I'd really like to see some kind of rover or instrument package dropped into the Valles Marin

      • by terjeber (856226)

        All the Mars mission failures so far have occurred in space

        I'd say they have occurred on earth, prior to lift off, but...

    • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmail. c o m> on Friday November 02, 2012 @09:22AM (#41852099) Homepage

      More limited than a rover, but much less expensive, and a lot less that could go wrong....

      Yes, (much, much) more limited than a rover, but no, not much less expensive in the end. You're talking a big and fairly capable mother platform to carry and communicate with more than one or two probes, and those don't come cheap. (Neither do the EDL systems for the probes.) And no, there isn't much less that could go wrong - each probe could go wrong, and you have a single point of failure in the mother platform.

      So, for not much less money and roughly the same level of mission risk - rather than getting comprehensive science on a single location, you get pretty much useless individual and unrelated data points from a variety of locations.

  • by Maow (620678) on Friday November 02, 2012 @06:20AM (#41851191) Journal

    I remember reading something on Slashdot *years* ago by someone (MBone?) that worked on Viking and still had some documents / protocol info in his garage.

    Anyone who did work on Viking landers, I'd love to read what you think about this impending announcement.

    Feel free to add any tales / memories that might be relevant; I'm sure there are some fascinating stories that could be told from a real space nerd.

    Dammit, I wish I could find the original post referred to in my first line...

    Cheers

    • by The Pea! (323436)

      There's already previous evidence of methane from spectrography.

    • If you read the article, you will find that "NASA's Curiosity rover is poised to settle the question as early as this week." No findings have been released as no data has been acquired (at least nothing acknowledged in the article). In any case, the presence of methane is of less interest than the concentration; it is found in interstellar space http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1991ApJ...376..556L [harvard.edu]

    • Well, acccording to betteridge's law... look, guys, just because someone proclaims something as a "law" doesn't make it one. Especially if the someone is a journalist.

      Wikipedia backs me up in your own link: "Betteridge has admitted to breaking his own law, in an article published at his own site."

  • . . . as soon as we find oxygen . . .

  • Even if there is temporal variation, why are they so certain that the methane in the air is due biological activities?

    • by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Friday November 02, 2012 @07:36AM (#41851461)

      Even if there is temporal variation, why are they so certain that the methane in the air is due biological activities?

      They are not, in fact scientists have been really busy trying to come up with alternate explanations for the presence of methane on Mars. However, the indications that the methane may be due to life are strong enough to make this worth investigating even though the odds are probably rather slim.

  • ...just trying to fit in.
  • by vikingpower (768921) <exercitussolusNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday November 02, 2012 @08:01AM (#41851577) Homepage Journal
    And let us assume that microbial life is the explanation we are or, better, NASA is going for. What then ? Will this radically change the focus of Mars exploration ? Are we then going to search frantically for said microbes ? And if so: how ? And when ? And where ?
    • by biodata (1981610)
      There was discussion here before that Venter is planning the next bit - to try to amplify any DNA that is there and sequence it http://science.slashdot.org/story/12/10/20/1446244/craig-venter-wants-to-rebuild-martian-life-in-earth-lab [slashdot.org] That takes care of the what and how. Not sure about the other two.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      It gives NASA an excuse to have more funding and could start a new age of space exploration. We've had mission after mission searching for life, and so far they have all come up dry.
      • Mission after mission, eh? Which missions? I can only think of one two-lander mission; Viking Mars mission (1&2) in 1976. Nothing since then. There was the ill-fated British Beagle lander, but that was underfunded, seriously under-tested, and probably hopeless. It cratered. Life-seeking missions would have to drill under the surface and then be able to perform a battery of tests. Not an easy task.
  • If there's any evidence of life whatsoever on Mars, likely, any attempt to put humans on Mars will complicate any attempt to learn more about it.

    Taking the long view, if there's any life there at all, then we would probably be doing the wrong thing to put anything living on Mars at all (in case we contaminate or interfere with what's already there), which rules out manned missions and human settlement.

  • by Squidlips (1206004) on Friday November 02, 2012 @09:15AM (#41852039)
    The significant part of the observation will be the C13/C12 isotope ratio. Curiosity's SAM/TLS device can sort out carbon (and oxygen) isotopes. Enhanced C12 would suggest a biological source.
    • But....first MSL has to detect methane and then it has to get enough to run the TLS isotope detection. Also enhanced C12 suggests life but this is based on Earth life. Maybe Mars life is different, if it even exists. Also a baseline for the a-biotic Mars C13/C12 ratios for Mars needs to be established which not easy either....
  • Where is the missive from K'breel warning the martians about this impending disaster? Could it be that the methane has already taken out this planetary spokesman?
    • Where is the missive from K'breel warning the martians about this impending disaster? Could it be that the methane has already taken out this planetary spokesman?

      The Council has been in deliberations. K'Breel, Speaker for the Council, summarized the minutes of the deliberations thusly:

      "Why, do the beings from the blue world seem so fixated on the offensive properties of methane, a gas released during respiration? Yet they completely ignore the offensive properties of water vapor, the substance most co

  • by zerosomething (1353609) on Friday November 02, 2012 @10:45AM (#41852951) Homepage
    If methane means life then Titan must be a cesspool http://www.thunderbolts.info/tpod/2006/arch06/060802methanelakes.htm [thunderbolts.info]
  • Obligatory "he who smelt it dealt it" inserted for your listening pleasure.

  • Did it come from Mars cows and when can we turn them into burgers?

  • Methane detection by SAM is negative. There is either no methane or a negligible amount right now. This could change over time, but I'm betting the claims of methane detection from Earth will eventually be blamed on noise and we'll find no methane on Mars over time.
  • Has the Mars Rover Sniffed Methane?

    How the hell would I know?

  • ...doesn't that presuppose that carbon-based life is all that matters? We assume so since we're carbon based. But life needn't be, really.

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