ESA's Mars orbiters did not see latest Curiosity methane burst

phys.org | 8/21/2019 | Staff
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In June, NASA's Curiosity rover reported the highest burst of methane recorded yet, but neither ESA's Mars Express nor the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter recorded any signs of the illusive gas, despite flying over the same location at a similar time.

Methane is of such fascination because on Earth a large proportion is generated by living things. It is known that methane has a lifetime of several hundred years before it is broken down by the Sun's radiation, so the fact that it is detected on Mars suggests it has been released into the atmosphere recently—even if the gas itself was generated billions of years ago.

Methane - Mystery - Mars - Twists - Turns

The methane mystery on Mars has had many twists and turns in recent years with unexpected detections and non-detections alike. Earlier this year it was reported that ESA's Mars Express had detected a signature that matched one of Curiosity's detections from within Gale Crater.

The Mars Express measurements were taken in the martian daytime about five hours after Curiosity's nighttime measurements; data collected by Mars Express over one day before also did not reveal any signatures. Meanwhile Curiosity's readings had returned to background levels when further measurements were taken in the following days.

Mars - Express - Measurement - Technique - Data

The Mars Express measurement technique allowing data to be inferred right down to the martian surface with its limit of detection around 2 ppbv.

The ESA-Roscosmos Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), the most sensitive detector for trace gases at Mars, also did not detect any methane while flying nearby within a few days before and after Curiosity's detection.

TGO - Parts - Levels - Altitude - Atmosphere

In general, TGO is capable of measuring at parts per trillion levels and accessing down to about 3-kilometer altitude, but this can depend on how dusty the atmosphere is. When measurements were taken at...
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