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Missing methane magnifies Mars mystery

11 Apr 2019, 14:45 UTC
Missing methane magnifies Mars mystery
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A mysterious mechanism acting on, or near, the surface of Mars is removing methane from the planet’s atmosphere, according to new results from the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). The joint European–Russian mission has released interim results covering the period of April to August 2018, revealing that it did not detect methane in the red planet’s atmosphere during that time.
This seems surprising, since NASA’s Curiosity rover, situated in Gale Crater, has detected a constant average background level of 0.4 ppbv (parts per billion by volume) of methane in the atmosphere for the last three Martian years, punctuated by occasional spikes in intensity of up to 7 ppbv. Furthermore, scientists had recently confirmed that the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft had observed one of the same spikes in methane levels that Curiosity measured in 2013, verifying the rover’s detection.
TGO detects atmospheric gases by watching how they absorb sunlight. “We should see a little dip [in the spectrum] where the methane absorption line is, but we see no dip whatsoever,” says Manish Patel of the Open University, UK, who is a co-principal investigator on TGO’s NOMAD spectrometer, and a co-author of the new findings. “It’s pretty obvious that there ...

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