The mystery of methane on Mars may finally be solved as scientists confirmed the presence of the life-indicating gas on the Red Planet as well as where it might have come from. By scouring records from the ESO's Mars Express satellite, the team found evidence that its probe had picked up the methane burst as well, confirming that Curiosity detected what we thought it had. Interestingly, Mars Express detected no other methane spikes during the observational period aside from the one detected by Curiosity.
Despite some speculation over methane on Mars, a group of scientists chose to conduct an independent investigation to see if the gas might exist on the Red Planet. On Monday, scientists published their findings about the first independent confirmation about methane on Mars in the Nature Geoscience journal. "Prior to our study, methane detections on Mars, being either in situ, from orbit, or from Earth-based telescopes, were not confirmed by independent observations".
This is the first time that a methane detection on Mars has been confirmed independently, so this adds a whole new level of certainty. When the ice melts, it could then release the ancient methane into the atmosphere.
Proving that methane exists on Mars would be a huge deal, so scientists have been extra careful to avoid any missteps in this area. The next day, ESA's Mars Express probe captured air samples with a methane concentration of 15.5 parts per billion as it whizzed through the atmosphere above Gale Crater. An global team compared observations from the two separate spacecraft to find independent proof of methane on our neighboring planet resolving an intense, long-standing debate. The new interpretation presented in the new study offers a different scenario.
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At the time of the Curiosity observation, scientists figured the methane originated north of the rover and was carried to the Gale Crater by southerly winds.
Marco Giuranna suspects the plume didn't originate from Gale Crater.
The scientists used the orbiter's planetary fourier spectrometer (PFS) to look for methane in and around Gale crater from December 2012 to July 2014.
This process is well known on Earth to occur along tectonic faults and from natural gas fields.
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Because methane gas dissipates relatively quickly - within around 12 years on Earth - and due to the difficulty of observing Mars' atmosphere, many scientists questioned previous studies that relied on a single data set.
"We identified tectonic faults that might extend below a region proposed to contain shallow ice".
"Remarkably, we saw that the atmospheric simulation and geological assessment, performed independently of each other, suggested the same region of provenance of the methane, which is situated about 311 miles (500 kilometers) east of Gale", Giuranna told The Guardian. There's still much to learn about this process, however, such as how the gas is being removed from the atmosphere, and the nature of the Aeolis Mensae site.
An worldwide team of scientists comparing observations made by two separate spacecraft taken a day apart in 2013 have finally conclusively confirmed the presence of methane on Mars, following over a decade and a half of speculation after an ESA probe discovered the existence of trace elements of the compound on the Red Planet.
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