The mystery of methane on Mars may finally be solved as scientists Monday confirmed the presence of the life-indicating gas on the Red Planet as well as where it might have come from.
In the 15 years since a European probe reported traces of the gas in the Martian atmosphere, debate has raged over the accuracy of the readings showing methane, which on Earth is produced by simple lifeforms.
Because methane gas dissipates relatively quickly — within around 12 years on Earth — and due to the difficulty of observing Mars’ atmosphere, many scientists questioned previous studies that relied on a single data set.
Now an international team of experts have compared observations from two separate spacecraft, taken just one day apart in 2013, to find independent proof of methane on our neighbouring planet.
Furthermore, they conducted two parallel experiments to determine the most likely source of methane on Mars to be an ice sheet east of Gale Crater — itself long assumed to be a dried up lake.
“This is very exciting and largely unexpected,” Marco Giuranna, from Rome’s National Astrophysics Institute, told AFP.
“Two completely independent lines of investigation pointed to the same general area of the most likely source for the methane.”
Europe’s Mars Express probe measured 15.5 parts per billion in the atmosphere above the Gale Crater on June 16, 2013. The presence of methane in the vicinity was confirmed by readings taken 24 hours earlier by NASA’s Curiosity rover.
Using the data, Giuranna and the team divided the region around the crater into grids of 250 by 250 square kilometres.
One study then ran a million computer-modelled emissions scenarios for each section while another team studied images of the planet surface for features associated on Earth with the release of methane.
– ‘Indicator of life’ –
The most likely source was a sheet of frozen methane beneath a rock formation, which the team believes periodically ejects the gas into the atmosphere.
Giuranna said that while methane is a sign of life on Earth, its presence on Mars doesn’t necessarily constitute evidence of something similar on the Red Planet.
“Methane is important because it could be an indicator of microbial life,” he said. “But life is not required to explain these detections because methane can be produced by abiotic processes.”
“Though not a direct biosignature of life, methane can add to the habitability of martian settings, as certain types of microbes can use methane as a source of carbon and energy,” he added.
Though there is no liquid water on Mars, the European Space Agency said in February its imaging equipment had shown further evidence of dried up river beds, suggesting the Red Planet may once have been home to simple organisms.
Giuranna said that further research was needed to determine the extent of the methane ice sheet near Gale Crater.
If founded to be extensive, the methane it contains “could support a sustained human presence” on Mars as a possible source of fuel for industrial processes and a propellant for returning manned missions to Earth, he said.
Trump forced to pay up after his charity is exposed as a sham
Donald Trump on Tuesday paid $2 million in damages as part of a settlement over use of his former charity to further his political and business interests -- the latest item on the US president's list of legal woes.
Trump had been accused of using foundation funds to settle lawsuits, promote his Trump-branded hotels, and for personal spending, including the purchase of a portrait of himself to display at one of his golf clubs.
The $2 million was paid equally to eight different charities, including the Children's Aid Society, the United Negro College Fund and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, according to a statement from New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat.
Group of vulnerable House Democrats are trying to censure – and not impeach – Trump
Despite all the likely illegal acts President Donald Trump has committed, despite the high crimes and misdemeanors he is being charged with – a list that in reality could have been exponentially larger – a small group of vulnerable House Democrats is actually trying to block the impeachment of this president and instead vote to censure him.
Calling it a “longshot idea,” Politico reports nearly all of the small group of Democrats serve in districts won by Trump in 2016. They are willing to do the wrong thing to keep their seats.
GOP scrambles to save its only Latina congresswoman as she heads towards a ‘fatal collision’ with Trump’s tribal politics
Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) is female, Hispanic, and a rare sight when it comes to Republicans on the West Coast, who have seen their female ranks in the House cut in half since 2011. As she prepares to run for reelection, the fact that she doesn't represent the typical GOP ideals in 2019 creates challenges in and of themselves. But as a report from POLITICO this Wednesday points out, Republicans are committed to protecting her.
"But as the daily war machine hits overdrive with the impeachment proceedings, Herrera Beutler is wary of what message she is expected to deliver," POLITICO's Rishika Dugyala and Melanie Zanonaes write. "Yes, she voted against the impeachment inquiry in October, but she is far from an unquestioning supporter of President Donald Trump. In fact, she is open about the fact she wrote in former House Speaker Paul Ryan's name on her ballot in 2016. And yes, she subscribes to the party’s beliefs on Obamacare repeal and a barrier on the southern border. But she voted against the GOP’s health care bill to replace much of Obamacare, which would have left millions uncovered. And she was one of 13 Republicans who rebuked Trump for his national wall emergency, saying it set a 'dangerous' precedent to circumvent Congress. Matt Gaetz, she is not."