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Mars Science

Has the Mars Rover Sniffed Methane? 119

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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  • by arisvega ( 1414195 ) on Friday November 02, 2012 @07:21AM (#41851391)

    In absence of free oxygen in Mars atmosphere, it is probably quite stable.

    No, quite the opposite actually- it gets destroyed (photodissociated) by -mainly- UV radiation.

    Methane being unstable and easily destroyed in the Martian atmosphere is the whole point of using it as a 'life-tracer': if it is around at high and unaccounted for amounts, then there has to be continuously produced somehow, and so far a biological origin for its production cannot be ruled out.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 02, 2012 @07:23AM (#41851405)

    > 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 Marineres. The ancient conditions that might have once harboured life on Mars (like the thick atmosphere, running water) should have persisted longer in those low altitudes than anywhere else. And if the Valles is in fact the result of some planet-ripping catastrophe that sterilised Mars, then I think we'd like to learn more about that, too.

  • by cultiv8 ( 1660093 ) on Friday November 02, 2012 @08:35AM (#41851749) Homepage

Remember to say hello to your bank teller.