The ExoMars mission’s Trace Gas Orbiter finds a surprising lack of methane on Mars stunning the researchers and rising puzzling questions.
The gas is produced on Earth by organisms and scientists argued that methane on the Martian atmosphere could also be formed from living organisms as traces of it has been discovered in the past.
Methane on Mars is diminishing
Scientists on Wednesday have released trace Gas Orbiter’s (TGO) surprising findings, April 10 in a report saying that the machine found almost no signs of methane from its observations from April to August 2018. TGO is a spacecraft placed on Mars to detect signs of life as part of the European-led ExoMars mission.
Oleg Korablev, a scientist with the Russian Academy of Sciences Space Research Institute and the principal investigator for the Atmospheric Chemistry Suite (ACS) apparatus on the TGO had said that the spacecraft is the most precise tool to measure the methane on the Red Planet, and that they only can report upper limits which are extremely low.
The most certain upper limit Korablev and his team discovered was just 0.012 parts per billion (ppb). The numbers are considerably lower than the ratio researchers anticipated based on the amount of the methane on Mars that the NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has discovered in the previous years (0.41 ppb), during the same season.
The researchers don’t know how, but based on the new findings and the previous numbers, it is possible that something makes the methane disappear on Mars.
Besides ACS, TGO has a gas-measuring tool known as NOMAD (Nadir and Occultation for Mars Discovery) but the two completely autonomous equipment examined by two separate teams gave the scientists the same results, said Håkan Svedhem, a TGO project scientist with the European Space Agency in a news conference that took place yesterday (April, 10).
Alien life on Mars – A paradox?
The fact that methane on Mars seems to appear and then quickly disappear leads to the theory that there is a destruction mechanism which can successfully make the gas disappear from the atmosphere, Marco Giuranna, a scientist with the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica in Rome said.
Scientists have come with some possible explanations on why the methane on Mars seemed to evaporate. It could be absorbed into the planet’s rock and soil, they said, or chemically connecting with eroded quartz sand, or lastly, being shattered by reactive elements, but all these theories are based on computer simulations and experiments conducted in laboratories on Earth.
Giuranna’s suggestion that the weather might have influenced the spacecraft might be generally agreed upon as the TGO researchers said that the instrument discovered upper levels of methane before one of the strongest planetary-encircling dust storms began in June 2018 on Mars, but not after it.
The fact that TGO’s observations haven’t led to findings of potential living organisms, Håkan Svedhem said that it is not enough to confirm the theory that there is no life on Mars. The results of the research were published in the journal Nature and also presented at the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna.
Jasmine holds a Master’s in Journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto and writes professionally in a broad variety of genres. She has worked as a senior manager in public relations and communications for major telecommunication companies, and is the former Deputy Director for Media Relations with the Modern Coalition. Jasmine writes primarily in our LGBTTQQIAAP and Science section.