Mysteries surrounding methane on Mars

Thursday, August 27, 2009

There may be more life in the planet Mars as scientists once thought. The discovery of methane in 2004 means that either life or volcanic activity that continues to generate heat below the surface of the planet. ESA wants to figure out what the reason. What the outcome is, it is sensational news for a planet that were once thought to them biologically and geologically inactive stood. The mystery surrounding the methane held in December 2003 shortly after the head, when ESA's Mars Express spacecraft in orbit around the red planet came.

When the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS) started collecting data observed Vittorio Formisano of the Istituto di Fisica dello Spazio Interplanetario CNR in Rome and the rest of the team around this instrument something remarkable. They saw traces of carbon dioxide and water vapor, as expected, but also methane. "There are also ways to produce methane without life, as by volcanic activity, but the possible biological slope which drew attention to the discovery."

"Methane was a surprise that we did not expect", said ESA Mars Researcher Agustin Chic Arro. The reason is that many of the earth in the methane released by our atmosphere evolved life forms, as cattle food record. There are also ways to produce methane without life, as by volcanic activity, but the possible biological slope which drew attention to the discovery. The discovery of methane by Mars Express is not alone. When Mars Express was on, two independent teams of astronomers from the Earth using telescopes the first traces of methane. After five years of intensive research confirmed all observations following the discovery. They asked the planetary researchers were puzzled.

Methane for about 300 years would be stable in the atmosphere of Mars. Whatever it produces methane, so it must be of recent origin. In January 2009 published a team led by Michael Mumma of Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA that the methane that was observed in 2003 was concentrated in three areas on the planet. This showed that the methane at that moment it was released and was observed before it could spread itself over the planet.

Then things started to develop very strange. Instead of the usual 300 years methane was almost completely disappeared in early 2006. There is clearly something strange going on Mars. "We expect to understand how methane behaves on Mars. But if the measurements are correct, then we need something very important to overlook, "says Franck Lefèvre of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie (CNRS, Paris) and member of the team on the SPICAM instrument on Mars Express. "Just remove the methane from the atmosphere 600 times faster than the models can explain."

Together with his colleague François Forget, who engaged in atmospheric research and also comes from the Université Pierre et Marie Curie Lefèvre investigated the disappearance of methane with a computer model of the climate on Mars. "We took the problem as researchers from the atmosphere without something to attract us of the nature of the source of the methane," he says. In recently published results, they found that their computer or elements as carbon monoxide and ozone in the atmosphere can reproduce, but not the behavior of the methane. "Just remove the methane from the atmosphere 600 times faster than the models can explain," says Lefevre. "Consequently, the source 600 times greater than we originally thought and that is very high, even by geological standards on our own planet."
The suspicion falls on the surface of the planet as fast as the cause for removal of methane. Either the methane is trapped in the presence of such substance, or would be quickly destroyed by reacting chemicals as hydrogen peroxide, as already indicated by the Viking missions in the 70s. If the latter is the case, then the hostile surface of Mars for many organic molecules (which contain carbon) than expected. That will look for traces of past or present life on Mars much more difficult. Future Mars Carts will therefore be drilling in the Martian soil to search for traces of life.

ESA and the Italian space agency ASI will be in November a three-day international workshop to the methane mystery to the bottom of a dig. Researchers will discuss results and future strategies for the investigation of the methane plan. The workshop hopes the Mars Express PFS team a global map of the methane on Mars to propose. "The mapping of methane in the recent months, the PFS priority for us now", said Olivier Witasse, ESA-project investigator for Mars Express.

"Either the methane is captured in the present matter either it is destroyed by chemical substances [...] If the latter is the case, then the hostile surface of Mars for many organic molecules than expected." In July, ESA and NASA agreed to cooperate to launch missions to Mars. The case of the methane is so important that these future projects will probably also pay attention to. "The methane on Mars is a better understanding of our top priorities," says Witasse. Whatever the explanation for the methane, it makes even more fascinating than the planet Mars was the planet has researchers.

This is a press release from the European Space Agency ESA.
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Sources: www.astroversum.nl

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