Curiosity was hard at work during the weekend. The Mars rover detected the highest amount of methane recorded on the Red Planet, sparking the interest of the scientific community, as it might suggest to the presence of life on Mars. NASA focused on the discovery and data produced by subsequent experiments showed that the increase had disappeared as the levels dropped back to normal.
NASA researchers stated that the plume of methane might have been exciting, but the fact that it disappeared is not surprising. The team is confident in the accuracy of the measurements, which were recorded with the help of the Sample Analysis at Mars (or SAM).
As the news reached the media and scientific channels during the weekend, some researchers thought that the high methane could signal the existence of life on Mars. Methane plays a significant role in the search for alien life, and it is released by a large number of living organisms, among which we can count microbes.
The methane levels spike recorded by NASA’s Curiosity is not solid proof that life on Mars exists
The first data appeared last Wednesday when the rover detected a high concentration of methane during a routine experiment which aims to check the density of air molecules in the atmosphere. A day later, the data confirmed that the level of methane reached 21 parts per billion, up to three times higher than the maximum level, which was recorded in the past.
NASA decided to delay other experiments in an attempt to explore the discovery, but the level of methane fell dramatically, and it barely reaches one part billion. The researchers concluded that a transient plume caused the spike. Sadly, Curiosity doesn’t carry the instruments which would allow researchers to tell if an organic or geologic process released it.
While the methane spike was impressive, similar events were observed in the past. Future spacecraft and Mars missions may clear the mystery, but for now, we don’t have access to more information. The methane dilemma is quite fascinating, and many researchers will continue to explore an attempt to solve the mystery. At the moment, nobody can say that there is life on Mars that might cause methane levels to spike like that.
Stacy Richardson is a seasoned journalist with 15 years experience.. She has conducted numerous research studies on media effects including the effects of bullying on adolescents, and “sexy media” effects on sexual behavior. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Stacy covers stories affecting local politics and economy. Contact Stacy here.