(ORDO NEWS) — NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover landed on the surface of the Red Planet in August 2012, and studies carried out with it have shown that Mars was once a potentially habitable planet. One of the most impressive results obtained with the rover was increased amounts of methane in the Martian atmosphere.
Over the past seven years, according to Curiosity measurements, the background level of methane on the planet has reached about 0.41 parts per billion by volume (ppbv), and these periodic peaks can cause an increase in the level of methane in the atmosphere up to 21 ppbv.
In the new study, the scientists note that these methane emissions “could have a big impact on the planet’s geology and astrobiology.” On Earth, almost all methane emissions are of biological origin. On Mars, methane can also be a biosignature, that is, of biological origin. At the same time, scientists do not exclude the abiotic origin of methane.
To determine the origin of these methane emissions, the researchers used a technique called “reverse trajectory analysis.” This method involves using Martian weather models to track the movement of the portion of atmospheric gases that brought with them the methane found by the Curiosity rover by the time the measurements were made.
The researchers studied all seven methane release events that have been recorded to date and used the global climate model of Mars to model the transport of methane with air currents across the surface of the planet.
By reconstructing the reverse trajectory for each methane vent, based on the pattern of wind movement in different seasons and at different times of the day, the authors found that all these vents probably come from the same place – the northwestern part of the Gale crater, a large impact crater in which , according to scientists, in ancient times there was liquid water, and which is currently being actively explored by the Curiosity rover.
It is worth noting, however, that a number of experts question the detection of methane on Mars, since, for example, the European-Russian apparatus Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) of the ExoMars mission did not detect the same amount of methane in the atmosphere of the Red Planet that Curiosity detected on the surface.
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