Methane-on-Mars

Mars has caught the attention and imagination of scientists and explorers. Several space missions have found the evidence of water on the red planet, however, if life exists in it still remains a mystery. Missions which have taken place till now have shown that Mars has characteristics similar to that of our blue planet’s, but there are many differences that are yet to be understood.

The mystery of the life-indicating gas called methane on Mars may finally be solved as scientists confirmed its presence on the planet. An international team of scientists along with researchers from the National Institute of Astrophysics in Rome recently found a source of the life-indicating gas called methane on Mars. The discovery was made about six years after NASA’s Curiosity rover first identified the traces of the gas on the planet in 2013. The scientists found that the methane gas which was detected earlier may have emerged from a layer of permafrost comprising waft of the gas that was broken by a geological event.

On June 16, 2013, the Curiosity rover detected an increase in methane in the Gale crater, a probable dry lake on Mars where the vehicle landed in August 2012. A methane concentration of 5.78 parts per billion (ppb) in the Gale creator was recorded by the rover while 15.5 ppb of methane in the atmosphere above the crater was recorded by the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer onboard Mars Express instrument.

The region of Mars is called Aeolis Mensae and consists of numerous geological faults that may have broken down the permafrost located nearby and ejected any methane trapped inside. The study notes that it’s also possible that incoming meteorites might have fractured the ice open and allowed methane to come out.

The scientists also said that the gas could have come out by parts through faults that break through the permafrost because of partial melting of ice, building up of gas pressure, or stresses due to planetary adjustments or impact by a local meteorite.

Marco Giuranna from the National Institute of Astrophysics in Rome, said, “Remarkably, we saw that the atmospheric simulation and geological assessment, performed independently of each other, suggested the same region of the provenance of the methane, which is situated about 311 miles (500 kilometers) east of Gale.”

According to Giuranna, the presence of methane gas in Mars shows that the planet would be more habitable as it could be used as a source of carbon and energy. He also said that more research needed to be carried out to determine the extent of the methane ice sheet near Gale Crater. If it is founded that methane is present extensively on Mars, it could support a sustained human presence on the planet as humans could make use of the gas to make chemicals and rocket fuel.