One of the vital elements for life support on our planet is the methane gas. After intense studies of the conditions on Mars, NASA scientists identified traces of the gas there as well. This baffled them, who started issuing a series of hypotheses regarding the source of this gas on the Red Planet.
Methane is fluctuating on Mars
The scientists at NASA presented their findings during a meeting held in New Orleans, Louisiana, of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). They informed the other researchers that Curiosity the Mars rover has a methane detector aboard, which identified traces of the gas on the planet. However, what amazed them more was the distribution of the gas.
The levels of methane on Mars are varying according to a cycle fluctuating from one season to another. This way, during late summer in the northern hemisphere, the gas levels reach their peak on the Red Planet.
Since 2012, when the rover landed on Mars, it kept collecting data on the Martian surface, but also on its atmosphere. By issuing a laser through this atmosphere, it could collect some samples and then analyze them to identify their composition. This is how researchers spotted the presence of methane. However, compared to Earth, the quantity is much smaller. On Earth, we have 1,800 parts per billion (ppb), while on Mars, the quantity is 0.4 ppb.
Where did this methane come from?
What remains a bugging question is the origin of methane on Mars. On Earth, the gas is produced with the help of either microbes, or through non-biological mechanisms. The gas can even originate from space, as the reaction between UV light and meteors can produce it and then let it fall over planets.
In fact, researchers identified the methane on Mars shortly after a meteor shower fell over the planet. Therefore, they think this might be the origin of the gas, and not some complex processes occurring on the surface. However, they are still planning to keep investigating the matter, and find a clear answer to the question.
Image Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory