Thursday, September 19, 2013

Mars Rover Curiosity Detects No Methane in Martian Gas Samples at Ground Level: Hope of Life on Mars Fades.

Researchers using an unusually sensitive gas detector aboard the Mars Curiosity robot rover reported that they can't find any methane in the thin Martian air, dealing a blow to hopes that life today might be lurking in the soil of the cold, arid world.

"Methane on Mars would be an exciting find because most of the methane on Earth comes from life-related processes," such as microbial activity or organic decay, said planetary scientist Malynda Chizek at New Mexico State University who studies the planet's atmosphere. "Everyone wants to be the one who discovers life on Mars."

Upon the first close inspection at ground level on Mars, however, the crucial methane gas was nowhere to be found by Mars Rover Curiosity.

More Mars probes, including India's first mission to the planet and a $1 billion European effort with Russia, are poised to search for methane there in the years ahead. In light of the new finding, some researchers now doubt these efforts will find any evidence of the life-related gas.

Since 2003, astronomers using Earth-based telescopes and readings from a European satellite orbiting Mars have reported detecting periodic plumes of methane on Mars—up to 50 parts per billion in the air. Although often challenged by other researchers, those readings raised expectations among astrobiologists that microbes might be at work on the planet.

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