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NASA’s Curiosity rover finds new methane spike on Mars

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NASA’s Curiosity Rover has detected the highest ever levels of methane in the course of its mission on Mars, an exciting discovery because the gas could point to the existence of microbial life.

But the methane could also be produced as a result of interactions between rocks and water.

Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) tunable laser spectrometer detected the reading — 21 parts per billion units by volume (ppbv) — sometime last week, NASA said Sunday.

“With our current measurements, we have no way of telling if the methane source is biology or geology, or even ancient or modern,” said Paul Mahaffy of NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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The Curiosity team has caught whiffs of methane many times over since Curiosity touched down on the Martian surface in 2012.

One leading theory is that the methane is being released from underground reservoirs created by ancient life forms.

Though Mars has no active volcanoes like on Earth, it is possible that methane is being released from geological processes, involving reactions of carbon from carbonate rocks or carbon dioxide, with hydrogen from liquid water.

At the right temperatures these reactions produce methane.

Past papers have documented how background levels of the colorless, odorless gas seem to rise and fall seasonally.

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The team have also noted sudden spikes in methane, but cannot say how long these temporary plumes last or why they differ from the seasonal patterns.

Researchers organized a new experiment over the weekend to gather more information about the latest spike, a suspected transient plume, in order to add context to the measurement.

“Curiosity’s scientists need time to analyze these clues and conduct many more methane observations,” the team said.

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“They also need time to collaborate with other science teams, including those with the European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter, which has been in its science orbit for a little over a year without detecting any methane.”

Combining readings from the surface and from orbit could help them pinpoint the source of the gas and understand how it interacts with the planet’s atmosphere, which is about a hundred times thinner than Earth’s and 95 percent carbon dioxide.

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“That might explain why the Trace Gas Orbiter’s and Curiosity’s methane observations have been so different.”


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Trump thinks he’s still the star of a reality TV show as coronavirus death toll continues to mount: op-ed

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This Sunday, President Trump fired off a series of tweets where he bragged about the "ratings hit" of his coronavirus briefings --  a series of tweets that one columnist described as an example of "complete amorality" as doctors, nurses, and other public servants put their lives on the line battling the spiraling pandemic. Writing for The Week this Monday, Joel Mathis contends that as the country reels from being turned upside down, Trump is "looking into a mirror, asking it to assure him that he is the fairest of them all."

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Scientific warnings are being ignored, misinformation is spreading, and prominent Republicans have said that addressing the problem is either too expensive or too difficult. No, this isn’t climate change: This is the new reality of the novel coronavirus, the deadly pandemic sweeping the planet.

Over the past several weeks, as global cases of COVID-19 have climbed to over 500,000, conspiracy theories and fake news have also been on the rise. On Monday a man died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate, an ingredient in an anti-malarial drug that President Trump had heralded as a coronavirus cure.

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Donald Trumps needs a coronavirus scapegoat — and right now it’s China

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"If we are at war, who is the enemy?" asks Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor for The Washington Post in a smart piece that examines the question of who constitutes a target for a self-declared "wartime president."

While it is obvious that the enemy, in this case, is a tiny, sticky, invisible microbe that stubbornly gloms onto surfaces or leaps through the air to weaponize subway cars or shared gym equipment or a touch to the face.

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