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Nasa's Curiosity rover detects methane in latest hint at life on Mars

24 June 2019

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has discovered the largest amount of methane ever measured on Mars during the mission.

The researchers will continue to investigate the data and see if they can find more evidence that will back up the theory and if it proves to be real, finding life on Mars, even in microbial form, would be an incredible discovery.

NASA has not yet made any announcements about the Curiosity's methane findings.

The Sample Analysis at Mars team set up a different experiment over the weekend to try to gather more information. The e-mail is said to have been obtained by The Times.

This image was taken by the left Navcam on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on June 18, 2019, the 2,440th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. The team expects the new reading to arrive early this week.

Scientists explain that the problem of using methane levels to answer whether there is life on Mars lies with the fact that the gas can be produced by microbes - similar to those living in low-oxygen conditions such as rocks deep underground or the intestinal tracts of animals - or by geologic activity.

Using measurements from Mars Express, a decade and a half ago, scientists first reported detection of methane on Mars.

But even with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's help, it might still be a while before we get a clear answer on what the discovery of such a high concentration methane actually means in this particular situation. The report said that the Red Planet's atmosphere is so thin that sunlight and other chemical reactions could have easily broken up the gas.

Whether the source of the methane is biological or not, figuring out where it comes from will teach us something new about Mars.

"To maintain scientific integrity, the project science team will continue to analyze the data before confirming results", the project's spokesperson said.

But the Trace Gas Orbiter, a newer European spacecraft launched in 2016 with more sensitive instruments, did not detect any methane at all in its first batch of scientific observations past year. In 2013, it was able to record a sudden spike of seven in one billion but the gas eventually ebbed away. Its laser spectrometer instrument registered a methane spike of 21 parts per billion by volume (ppbv) in the Gale Crater, a region the rover has been exploring since it landed in 2012.

Nasa's Curiosity rover detects methane in latest hint at life on Mars