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Saturday, November 10, 2012

No Mars methane sniffed by Curiosity (yet)

The Curiosity rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments make the most sensitive measurements ever to search for methane gas on the Red Planet. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity has unfortunately found no methane in the Martian atmosphere. This puts a fairly large dent in the likelihood of there being life on Mars. More from ExtremeTech.

The story isn't over. Curiosity landed on August 6, 2012 so it has time to take samples and come up with a more conclusive estimate for the amount of methane in the Martian atmosphere. The scientists took into account relatively large margins of error for the analysis. If there is a source of methane, it takes about three months to distribute it from the source, scientists said. Curiosity will continue making atmospheric measurements and may find methane in the future, noted CNN last week.

Other research teams using several different ground-based and space-based instruments have detected methane in Mars air. The observed concentrations have been very low, between 10 and 50 parts per billion or so, notes Mike Wall at Live Science.

SAM's initial readings don't necessarily invalidate these previous measurements, researchers say. But the rover's results do highlight the need to better understand the sources and sinks of Martian methane. Toward that end, the Curiosity team plans to keep hunting for methane over the course of Curiosity's two-year mission, which aims to determine if the Red Planet could ever have supported microbial life. (Twitter)

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