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Mars NASA

NASA Rover Fails to Turn Up Methane On Mars 106

Posted by timothy
from the we-have-it-all-down-here dept.
The Washington Post is one of many sources to report the possibly disappointing news that NASA's Curiosity rover has failed to find any methane on Mars. "[NASA planetary scientist Michael] Mumma had high hopes for a positive result because he and his colleagues believe they have detected methane on Mars remotely, from telescopes on Earth that can discern the chemical nature of Mars’s atmosphere. A European orbiter around Mars also spotted methane. But the methane has proved ephemeral — now you see it, now you don’t. Mumma said he and his colleagues are reviewing their work to see if there is some error in the mix. Perhaps the methane simply disappears quickly on Mars, through some unknown chemical process. 'It’s possible that we don’t understand something that’s going on in the Martian atmosphere,' said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program.'"
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NASA Rover Fails to Turn Up Methane On Mars

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    On the one hand, we've had a lot of experience with spectroscopy, and on the other we have a rover actually there.
    • Re:Which to trust? (Score:5, Informative)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday September 22, 2013 @07:33PM (#44920469) Journal

      On the one hand, we've had a lot of experience with spectroscopy, and on the other we have a rover actually there.

      Depending on exactly where in the atmosphere the light used for the spectroscopy data is coming from, they might both be accurate: If you were working by telescope, Earth should show plenty of ozone; but if your ground-level sampling station is turning up any nontrival amount, that means that something is rather wrong...

      Were that the case, I have no doubt that all sorts of vexing questions about how such a methane distribution could come to be would come up; but atmospheres do vary by location.

      • by msauve (701917)
        "ozone; but if your ground-level sampling station is turning up any nontrival amount, that means that something is rather wrong..."

        Or your LASER printer is next to your sensor.
      • Perhaps the methane simply disappears quickly on Mars, through some unknown chemical process. 'It’s possible that we don’t understand something that’s going on in the Martian atmosphere
        • Whenever ephemeral methane is detected around here I blame the closest dog...
          Seriously, with the oddball magnetic field structure that focuses on the southern hemisphere [sciencemag.org] (insert Uranus joke here) it's a wonder solar ablation has not wiped all gases from the place. As the solar wind (fart joke optional) takes gas from lesser protected areas of the globe gravity pretty much demands that pressures equalize, but I'm not sure if you would get a tequila sunrise effect(lighter elements on top) or if the normal he
          • Martian methane plumes [nasa.gov] have been observed remotely, they appear to be a localised seasonal phenomena. It's not known if biology or geology is the source, I believe the rover was supposed to do isotopic analysis of the methane to determine if it was biological in origin. The fact they can't find any methane at all is odd, and we all know that the phrase "that's odd" has lead to some amazing discoveries.

            I've followed climate science for a long time and it's interesting to note that the methane cycle on Ear
            • by Sique (173459)
              Most climate sceptics have no real insight in the actual science behind the climate debate. That's why.
      • by jamstar7 (694492)

        On the one hand, we've had a lot of experience with spectroscopy, and on the other we have a rover actually there.

        Depending on exactly where in the atmosphere the light used for the spectroscopy data is coming from, they might both be accurate: If you were working by telescope, Earth should show plenty of ozone; but if your ground-level sampling station is turning up any nontrival amount, that means that something is rather wrong... Were that the case, I have no doubt that all sorts of vexing questions about how such a methane distribution could come to be would come up; but atmospheres do vary by location.

        Mars doesn't have much of an atmosphere nor much atmospheric pressure. I'm thinking methane just disperses fast and gets blown away on the solar wind.

      • by DragonTHC (208439)

        rather wrong?

        It's like saying an Earth Rover failed to turn up any bauxite in it's drilling samples.

        While we have an enormous amount of methane in our atmosphere, we also have a teeming biosphere. The methane might be frozen in the ground.

    • Yea but... the rover is also using a spectrometer.

    • by Mr2cents (323101)

      I've watched a great lecture about methane "observations" on Mars a while a go. It's really worthwhile if you want to get some background into the claims made. Needless to say, what you hear in the press is not to be trusted. Listen to the scientists themselves, they give a lot more subtle story than the headlines in a newspaper.

      2011 SETI lecture about methane on Mars [youtube.com].

  • by Toad-san (64810) on Sunday September 22, 2013 @07:32PM (#44920463)

    there are no cows on Mars.

    As I had long suspected.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 22, 2013 @07:35PM (#44920479)

    As I remember from a discussion we had on Friday the methane detection claim has been held in some doubt because he didn't take the redshift/blueshift context into account. It's likely the ground observation just saw the methane in Earth's atmosphere. The satellite observation is harder to explain -- if the methane was there and disappeared, the forces making it go away would have to be over a hundred times more powerful than it is on Earth, a planet with a much more volatile atmosphere.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The problem with the satellite observation lies with the low resolution of the instrument used for the detection: the methane bands were not observed directly.
      Without going into the details, we can say that the error bars were pretty high on that observations.
      So, these results by Curiosity are not really unexpected, nor dissatisfactory: they match very well with the understanding of the CH4 chemistry!

      An interesting paper was published on that subject by Zahnle in 2011 : http://faculty.washington.edu/dcatlin

      • The problem with the satellite observation lies with the low resolution of the instrument used for the detection: the methane bands were not observed directly.

        Interesting, the theory of AGW was rejected for the same reason up until the 1950's, the narrow CO2 bands were said to be overlapped by the broad H20 bands thus "cancelling out" any warming from CO2. Work on infrared technology for heat seeking missiles lead to higher resolutions that showed the bands were interleaved rather than overlapped (as expected).

  • Poor NASA (Score:5, Funny)

    by djupedal (584558) on Sunday September 22, 2013 @07:43PM (#44920507)
    Can't find water, can't find their DICP, can't find methane - no wonder they have a hard time finding funding :)
    • by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday September 22, 2013 @08:04PM (#44920577)

      Just you wait 'til they find oil.

      • by libtek (902569)

        Just you wait 'til they find oil.

        ...or WMDs, then BOOM! We already have our first drone on standby in the area. No boots on the ground. 'Murica!

      • by kdogg73 (771674)

        Just you wait 'til they find oil.

        QFT: Mod parent Insightful.

      • ... and LPG/LNG on Titan. Lakes, if not oceans of it.
    • See? This proves NASA is staffed with incompetent government employees! Why, if we gave it over to private industry, I'm sure they'd find water and methane! NASA is just a useless jobs program!

      (The above is sarcasm, for those who are sarcasm-deficient)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "It’s possible that we don’t understand something that’s going on in the Martian atmosphere" - Ya think?
    In truth, this is an excellent result. Some of the most profound scientific discoveries have been preceded by a null result.
    How many times have we heard this sequence... "If we look here we should find X... WTF??... Oh!!... Hole crap!!!!!"

  • by Tackhead (54550) on Sunday September 22, 2013 @07:53PM (#44920535)

    The Council has declared a day of rejoicing, relaxation and release as intelligence reports from the blue world confirm that the latest invader from the blue world has failed to detect appreciable quantities of quadrohydrocarbon.

    K'Breel, Speaker for the Council, addressed a tightly-clenched world: "Our collective tightening effort over the past year has not gone in vain. Long and hard have we clenched, and now it is time for all right-thinking citizens to reap the rewards. Our symbol must no more be the clenched fist, but the unfolded flower! REJOICE with your podmates, RELAX your cloacae, and RELEASE upon our impoverished atmosphere a deluge of accumulated flatulence so great that the very canyon walls shall shake, enveloping the invaders in dust and cutting off their vital power!"

    When a junior reporter reminded the Speaker that the latest invader was powered by something other than mere radiant stellar energy, K'breel, in his mercy, had both of the junior reporter's cloacae sealed until the pressure of accumulated quadrohydrocarbon was released through the second-weakest point of structural failure: the gelsacs.

  • The martian extractor fan is on!
  • Hint: Farts float
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The trouble is being in the wrong spot and at the wrong time and with the wrong equipment and with the wrong people trying to figure things out on the Government dime.

    The worst of all worlds.

    • by larwe (858929)
      Given that more or less every month we find out some new organism, some new life process, or other similar thing on this planet, I think the only "right" place to be on a body is "everywhere". So any one spot is definitely the wrong spot to observe all the possible processes that are occurring on Mars. I mean, hell, one very simple explanation is that all the CH4 is being created by microorganisms that live in a specific stratum of the atmosphere. (Note: I am ENTIRELY in favor of disbanding government spac
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The Rover didn't manage to find this dup [slashdot.org], either.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Are we having daily updates on this topic?

    21/09: No methane on Mars
    22/09: Still no methane on Mars
    23/09: Breaking news ... no methane. Check back tomorrow!

    This exciting barrage of news makes the moon landings look pretty boring! Go NASA!

  • Silly debugging question but how do you they know the sensor is working?

  • How long does it have to take before we go from "It's life, Jim, but not as we know it" to "It's dead, Jim"?

  • Mars has a long history of unfulfilled wishful thinking associated with it. Let's not forget Percival Lowell's early telescope observations of the planet leading him to claim it was covered by canals undoubtedly built by an extraterrestrial civilization. Mumma and Meyer's are the modern day Lowells. Other posts in this discussion already have the large error margins in the satellite observations covered, and the scientists behind this ought to have known better. But hey, NASA needs the hype, right? After al
    • I'm actually rather pleased that no life has been found. This increases the probability of the long term survival of humanity.

      After all, if some simple life form existed on Mars, we could reasonably expect the galaxy to be teeming with life everywhere. And in the right conditions (which exist in plenty of places), we would expect those life forms to have evolved just like we did. So why haven't we received any intelligent signals from space, then? Only one variable left: maybe intelligent civilisations tend

  • And yet this is the method they use to determine the exact makeup and temperature and earthiness of a planet lightyears away. Good job, guys.

He: Let's end it all, bequeathin' our brains to science. She: What?!? Science got enough trouble with their OWN brains. -- Walt Kelly

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