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Science & Technology

Methane in the Martian Air

  • 24 Jun 2019
  • 2 min read

NASA’s Curiosity Rover has discovered high amounts of methane in the Martian air, a gas that on Earth is usually produced by living things.

  • The Curiosity rover has found 21 parts per billion of methane, or three times the 2013 finding.
    • The gas seems to rise and fall with the red planet’s seasons.
  • However, the Trace Gas Orbiter, a newer European spacecraft launched in 2016 with more sensitive instruments, did not detect any methane at all in its first batch of scientific observations last year.
  • Rovers scheduled for launch next year — one by NASA, one by a Russian-European collaboration — will carry instruments designed to search for the building blocks of life.

NASA Curiosity Mission

  • The Curiosity is the largest and most capable rover ever sent to Mars. It landed on Mars in August, 2012.
  • The purpose of the mission is to find chemical and mineral evidence of past habitable environments on Mars.

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO)

  • The orbiter is the first in a series of joint missions between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.
  • It was designed to search for trace gases in the Martian atmosphere such as methane, water vapor, nitrogen oxides and acetylene.
    • These gases could provide evidence for possible biological or geological activity on Mars.
  • It also will monitor seasonal changes in the Martian atmosphere and will look for water-ice beneath the surface.
  • Exomars Trace Gas Orbiter began operations after entering Mars orbit in October, 2016.
  • A second mission, ExoMars 2020, is planned for launch in 2020 and will include a rover capable of drilling about 6 feet (two meters) below the surface to search for clues for past life on Mars.
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