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The unlikelihood of methane on Mars

3 Aug 2012, 12:34 UTC
The unlikelihood of methane on Mars
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One of the early results I think we're expecting from Curiosity is an analysis of trace gases in the Martian atmosphere -- including the level of methane. There was a time when I, and this blog, were obssessed with the news of methane on Mars and what it meant for the likelihood of a cryptic microbial biosphere in the Martian subsurface (full archive). Indeed it is possible, I can't say for sure, that I may have been the origin of the martian-methane-expressed-as-a-number-of-cows meme found recently in an excellent piece by Dick Kerr (summary|paywalled full text). In the excitement, and newly enamoured with the fun of blogging, I was quite the believer.
More recently I have become more sceptical, very largely as a result of this article (pdf) by my friends Kevin Zahnle and David Catling and their colleague Richard Freedman. My take on the article and its arguments, by which i was and remain broadly convinced, appeared a couple of years ago in The Economist. I won't recap it here, but if you're interested it's worth a look. And I liked the conclusion:

The debate carries a worthwhile scientific lesson in itself. Observations, which to an outsider might sound ...

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