Curiosity rover detects spikes of methane at Mars

JPL-NASA/AP PhotoThis photo taken Nov. 13

JPL-NASA/AP PhotoThis photo taken Nov. 13

NASA's Mars rover, Curiosity, has detected spikes of methane in the planet's atmosphere. That suggests something is producing or venting the scientifically tantalizing gas, but no one knows what.

Most of Earth's atmospheric methane comes from animal and plant life, and the environment itself. So the Martian methane raises the question of past or present microbial life. Or the gas elevations could come from geological sources, comet impacts or something else entirely.

The latest study, released Tuesday by the journal Science, indicates there's less than half the expected amount of methane in the atmosphere around Curiosity's location in Gale Crater. But over a full Martian year, the rover measured fairly frequent occurrences of elevated methane levels — tenfold increases.

“This temporary increase in methane — sharply up and then back down — tells us there must be some relatively localized source,” the University of Michigan's Sushil Atreya, part of the Curiosity team, said in a statement. “There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.”

In addition, Curiosity detected other organic molecules when it drilled into a rock. Scientists said it's believed to be the first confirmation of organic carbon in a Martian rock. The identity of the organic material is unknown.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Christopher Webster led the international study of methane.

CuriosityMars RoverNASAUS

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Gov. Gavin Newsom gave an update on COVID-19 cases on Thursday Nov. 3, 2020. (Examiner screenshot)
Newsom announces statewide stay-at-home order tied to availability of hospital beds

Order will take effect in Bay Area when intensive care unit capacity falls below 15 percent

Photo by Abalone Runner/ <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74406455" target="_blank">CC BY-SA 4.0</a>
Former Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard facing domestic violence, child abuse charges

Prominent Bay Area political strategist Nathan Ballard is facing domestic violence and… Continue reading

Construction crews work on new red bus rapid transit lanes on Van Ness Avenue on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA board scrutinizes Van Ness BRT spending

Proposed contract modification would allocate $2.6 million for pedestrian monitors

Mayor London Breed said “I need to hold myself to a higher standard” in response to criticism of a recent meal at a Napa Valley restaurant. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Breed calls criticism for French Laundry trip ‘fair’

Mayor said she regrets that actions ‘distracted’ from public health message as COVID-19 cases rise

City Administrator Naomi Kelly said Wednesday that the allegations against her husband were “based on the word of a liar.” (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
City Administrator Naomi Kelly takes leave after feds charge husband

High-ranking official under scrutiny over 2016 China trip

Most Read