ArcMap snapshot.
Credit: Giuranna, et al.

A life-indicating gas on Mars – methane – has been independently confirmed.

The research has been led by Marco Giuranna of the Istituto di Astrofisica e Planetologia Spaziali in Rome, Italy.

The paper — Independent confirmation of a methane spike on Mars and a source region east of Gale Crater – has been published in Nature Geoscience.

Reports of methane detection in the Martian atmosphere have been intensely debated. The presence of methane could enhance habitability and may even be a signature of life. However, no detection has been confirmed with independent measurements.

ESA’s Mars Express in orbit around the Red Planet.
Credit: ESA/AOES Medialab

Firm detection

Giuranna and colleagues report a firm detection of 15.5 ± 2.5 ppb by volume of methane in the Martian atmosphere above Gale Crater on June 16, 2013, by the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer onboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express.

That detection came one day after an on-the-spot observation of a methane spike by NASA’s Curiosity rover.

NASA Curiosity rover on the Red Planet prowl since August 2012 and assessing the habitability of Mars.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“Methane was not detected in other orbital passages. The detection uses improved observational geometry, as well as more sophisticated data treatment and analysis, and constitutes a contemporaneous, independent detection of methane,” they report.

Credit: Giuranna et al., Nature Geoscience, 2019

Potential source region

An independent geological analysis points to a potential source region east of Gale Crater. In that location, faults of Aeolis Mensae may extend into proposed shallow ice of the Medusae Fossae Formation and episodically release gas trapped below or within the ice.

“Our identification of a probable release location will provide focus for future investigations into the origin of methane on Mars,” the international research team concludes.

While methane could be an indicator of microbial life, abiotic (non-biological) processes cannot be ruled out, Giuranna notes.

Mars Express matches methane spike measured by Curiosity
Credit: ESA/Giuranna et al (2019)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The study — Independent confirmation of a methane spike on Mars and a source region east of Gale Crater — is reported in Nature Geoscience this week and can be found here:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0331-9

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