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Scientists resolve one Mars methane mystery

Scientists have now figured out why the methane data from Curiosity on the Martian surface did not match the methane data from Trace Gas Orbiter in orbit around Mars.

Last year, scientists learned that methane concentrations changed over the course of the seasons with a repeatable annual cycle. “This most recent work suggests that the methane concentration changes over the course of each day,” Dr Moores said. “We were able – for the first time – to calculate a single number for the rate of seepage of methane at Gale crater on Mars that is equivalent to an average of 2.8 kg per Martian day.”

Dr Moores said the team was able to reconcile the data from the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and the Curiosity Rover, which appeared to contradict each other with wildly different detections of methane. “We were able to resolve these differences by showing how concentrations of methane were much lower in the atmosphere during the day and significantly higher near the planet’s surface at night, as heat transfer lessens,” he said.

Solving that data conflict helps them get a better grip on the real question: Why is the methane fluctuating in this manner?

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

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3 comments

  • Matthias

    …concentrations of methane were much lower in the atmosphere during the day and significantly higher near the planet’s surface at night, as heat transfer lessens.

    Bob (or any other reader): What kind of geological or other non-biological processes show a behavior to emit more methane when cold/dark?

    Could some “mars-soil” store the methane temporarily and release it again in a day/night-cycle?

  • Matthias: You are asking the basic scientific question here. We do not know. We also cannot make assumptions about whether this is geological or biological. We do not yet know.

    And we likely won’t know until we get there with better instruments or with human hands on the ground.

  • Mike Borgelt

    During the day convection transports methane away from the surface and the wind at higher levels above the surface blows it away from the crater and disperses it. At night, as the surface cools a temperature inversion forms very near the surface, cutting off convection and preventing momentum transport to the surface resulting in low to no wind speed so the methane concentration rises. I used to be a meteorologist. No big deal. You see the same thing with air pollutants on Earth.
    I’m betting it is non biological in origin and is similar to an oil seep on Earth only it is just a gas instead of liquid and rate of seepage is pretty constant. Seasonal variations are likely related to seasonal variations in wind speed and convection also.

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