NASA’s Curiosity rover makes stunning methane discovery on Mars



The Curiosity rover collected the photographs for this selfie on Could 13, 2019, which corresponds to Sol 2405 on Mars.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

NASA’s Mars rover, Curiosity, has detected the biggest quantity of methane but measured throughout its seven years on the Crimson Planet. It is a notably riveting discovery as a result of the methane ranges found by the rover are about thrice increased than earlier detections, resulting in some hypothesis the fuel could also be organic in origin.

A report by the New York Instances on Saturday first revealed the curious discovering after acquiring an inside electronic mail from Ashwin Vasavada, a mission scientist on the mission. On Sunday, NASA launched an announcement confirming the invention, explaining how Curiosity’s Pattern Evaluation at Mars (SAM) suite of devices had detected methane at 21 components per billion models by quantity — a lot increased than ever earlier than.

Methane is a vital molecule for microbes on Earth and its detection on one other planet has led to hypothesis that tiny microbes are (or had been) puffing fuel out at such a fee that NASA’s intrepid rover can spot them.

Scientists have detected hints of methane on the floor of Mars previously, together with way back to the Viking missions within the 1970s. Thus, the invention of extra methane does not essentially imply we have stumbled upon life. Spikes in Mars’ methane ranges aren’t uncommon, with a examine reporting final June on differences due to the season within the molecule’s atmospheric focus.

Thomas Zurbuchen, affiliate administrator of NASA’s science mission directorate, has cautioned towards leaping straight to the E.T. resolution on Twitter, noting methane might be created by geological processes. And sadly, so far as we all know, rocks will not be residing beings.

Importantly, Curiosity now has some additional work to do, with a follow-up experiment being performed over the weekend “to collect extra info on what could be a transient plume.” NASA notes these uncommon methane spikes have been picked up earlier than, however we’re probably not positive how lengthy they final or what could be inflicting them. Outcomes from the extra experiment might attain us by as early as Monday, based on the Instances.

Nonetheless, the company notes Curiosity doesn’t comprise devices which may definitively say the place the methane might have come from.

“With our present measurements, now we have no method of telling if the methane supply is biology or geology, and even historic or fashionable,” mentioned Paul Mahaffy, SAM principal investigator, in an announcement.

Good science depends on follow-up and repeat findings earlier than affirmation, so whereas it is simple to get excited by the potential for indicators of life, much more work must be carried out earlier than we are able to actually affirm the presence of any tiny, underground martian pals.


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