Red Planet or Mars is a pretty busy place. Over the past 12 months, orbital vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, as well as scientists operating them, have noticed the scars of ancient raging rivers, felt trembling from an earthquake, and found signs of liquid water deep underground. As we learn more about the formation of various processes on the red planet, one question still remains: is there life on Mars?
Martian microbes emit gas into the atmosphere of the planet?
In March 2004, the ESA Mars Express mission confirmed that methane is present in the atmosphere of Mars. Its quantity was small, but its discovery was unusual, because on Earth, a certain amount of methane in the atmosphere comes from volcanoes, most of it is produced by living organisms.
Methane has existed in the Martian atmosphere for only a few hundred years, which means that everything that produced it was relatively recent. Although a volcanic explanation would be exciting because Mars was considered geologically dead, biological origin has attracted even more attention from humans.
Methane was concentrated in certain regions and quickly dispersed to levels that were no longer detectable. Then, a decade later, reappeared.
This time it was discovered by NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover, which landed in Gale Crater in 2012. Using its built-in set of tools “conducting analysis of samples on Mars”, the rover took a dozen readings over a 20-month period, mainly detecting an extremely low gas level. However, at the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, methane levels rose sharply 10 times.
“At the moment, we don’t know the origin of this methane,” said NASA employee Danny Glavin, who was participating in the mission. Until today, no answers have been found.
More recently, a reanalysis of Mars Express data revealed that it also discovered methane in Gale Crater in June 2013. However, the subsequent methane search mission did not find anything.
In 2020, the second part of the ExoMars mission, containing the lander and the all-terrain vehicle, will arrive on Mars and continue the search. “Rosalind Franklin’s rover itself will not search specifically for atmospheric methane, but there will be several different atmospheric spectrometers on board the ExoMars landing module, so they will also investigate the local chemical composition of the Martian atmosphere,” he said. Abby Hatti, ExoMars Supply Manager and Structural Vendor Manager for Airbus Defense and Space