A team of scientists working with the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express Orbiter has reported that methane gas episodically wafts into the Mars’ atmosphere within Gale crater, a 96-mile-wide crater near the Martian equator.
This notion once considered perplexing and bewildering is now widely accepted by scientists because NASA’s Curiosity Rover also measured a marked increase in methane gas around the same crater in 2013. However, quite mysteriously, the methane levels decreased within two months which was bewildering as according to the calculations, it would take a few hundred years for Martian atmosphere to breakdown methane molecules.
Scientists are not sure if both, periodic increases and then subsequent decreases, are due to geological or biological processes. Two theories have been used to explain these findings: it might have been created by a geological process known as serpentinization, which requires both heat and liquid water. Or it could be a product of life — specifically methanogens, microbes that release methane as a waste product. Methanogens thrive in places lacking oxygen, such as rocks deep underground and the digestive tracts of animals.
The Mars Express findings also point to a possible source of the methane, about 300 miles east of Gale. In that region, ice must exist just below the surface. Dr. Giuranna, principal investigator for the Mars Express instrument that made the measurements, said: “methane could be released
episodically along faults that break through the permafrost due to partial melting of ice”. The findings are especially important as they can help direct future missions and serve as prime locations to search for signs of life.
Muhammad Abdullah Khan has done bachelors in Chemistry from Government College University
Lahore. He is a science enthusiast and loves to read and write about astronomy, cosmology and latest