The Methane spike on Mars – a gas related to life here on Earth – detected last week by the Curiosity rover has almost vanished in a matter of days.
NASA scientists in charge of the Curiosity rover conducted a follow-up experiment on the methane peak during the weekend.
The new results reveal that methane levels have decreased considerably, with less than 1 part per billion per volume detected.
That is a value close to the background levels that Curiosity sees all the time while exploring on Mars.
The mystery remains.
Where did the Methane come from? Was it caused by living organisms on Mars? And why did it vanish so rapidly?
These are questions experts are unable to answer, as they continue exploring Mars and its many mysteries.
The finding suggests that methane detection last week, the largest amount of this gas that Curiosity has found, was one of the transient methane plumes that have been observed in the past on the surface of Mars, revealed NASA.
But the new follow up studies didn’t reveal much.
Measurements from Mars have indicated how the background levels of Methane rise and fall seasonally, but experts are unable to find a pattern in the occurrence of these transient plumes.
“The methane mystery continues,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “We’re more motivated than ever to keep measuring and put our brains together to figure out how methane behaves in the Martian atmosphere.”
.@MarsCuriosity rover found the largest amount of methane ever measured during the mission. Although this is an exciting discovery, it doesn’t necessarily mean life exists because methane can be created through interactions between rocks & water. Details: https://t.co/XYUfpHIqcs pic.twitter.com/I14q6niDET
— Thomas Zurbuchen (@Dr_ThomasZ) June 23, 2019
And despite the fact that the Curiosity rover, which has been on Mars since 2012, has detected Methane spikes in the Martian atmosphere numerous times, the rover is not equipped with instruments that can differentiate whether the Methane it sniffed on Mars is biological or geological.
“With our current measurements, we have no way of telling if the methane source is biology or geology, or even ancient or modern,” revealed SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
A clearer understanding of the Martian methane spikes, combined with coordinated measurements from other missions could help scientists determine where the Methane on Mars is coming from, and whether or not it is indicative of lifeforms existing on Mars.