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In 2003, scientists from NASA's Goddard Space Center made the first-ever detection of trace amounts of methane in Mars' atmosphere, a find which was confirmed a year later by the ESA's Mars Express orbiter. In December of 2014, the Curiosity rover detected a tenfold spike of methane at the base of the Gale Crater, and uncovered evidence that indicated that Mars has a seasonal methane cycle, where levels peak in the late northern summer.
The existence of methane gas on Mars has been long been held to be potential evidence for the existence of past or present life. So it was quite the downer last week (on Dec. 12th) when the science team behind one of the ESA's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) spectrometers announced that they had found no traces of methane in Mars' atmosphere.
Announcement - Fall - Meeting - American - Geophysical
The announcement came during the 2018 Fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which took place from Dec. 10th to 14th, in Washington, D.C. At a presentation titled "Impact of the 2018 global dust storm on Mars atmosphere composition as observed by NOMAD on ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter", the science team behind the Nadir and Occultation for MArs Discovery (NOMAD) spectrometer presented results from the mission.
Arriving in orbit around Mars in 2016, one of the chief aims of the TGO mission was to scan the atmosphere for signs of methane. This task has been performed by two of the orbiter's spectrometers – the NOMAD and the Atmospheric Chemistry Suite (ATS) – which were designed to detect methane in very low concentrations.
Instruments - Sensitivity - Science - Team - Methane
Given these instruments' sensitivity, the science team was confident that if there was any methane to be found in Mars' atmosphere, NOMAD and ATS would be able to sniff it out. However, the team's initial results showed no detection of methane all the way down to...
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