Are We Responsible for Methane on Mars?

Methane on Mars has been a hot topic for scientists for half a century. It is currently unknown if the planet is emitting it, or if it’s perhaps even a result of our presence there. If it is present on Mars naturally, it could indicate that Mars is much more geologically, or perhaps even biologically, active than previously thought. Methane was, at first, not detected by the Curiosity rover. However, a few months after the first methane scan, the gas was detected and actually seemed to be increasing in concentration over a period of two months. Some people believe that the detection of methane was a result of a measurement glitch, or that methane plumes on the planet could be seasonal. Others, like Kevin Zahnle, a scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center, believe the methane spike was actually a result of our exploration of the red planet.

Are We Responsible for Methane on Mars? - Clapway


Methane on Mars could come from Curiosity rover.

The Curiosity rover that took the methane readings has a chamber that contains methane at a concentration a thousand times as high as what was detected. When the rover’s spectrometer detected methane upon its landing, the Curiosity team realized that some terrestrial air had leaked into the spectrometer when it was on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Most of that methane was pumped out after, with only a small amount kept for calibration purposes.

Yet, Curiosity team insists the methane couldn’t have come from the rover.

The team insists that the methane from within the rover could not have been responsible for the methane that was later found, since there was no evidence of any leakage. Additionally, they tell us that the amount of methane present in the Curiosity rover’s chamber was inconsequential, and would have done very little to contribute towards a methane spike. Yet, Zahle believes that terrestrial air could have breached other parts of the rover, and may thus still be to blame.

Are We Responsible for Methane on Mars? - Clapway
There are also other possible sources of the methane on Mars.

Although unlikely, it is a possibility that the methane gas may have been a direct result of a meteorite falling near the rover. The meteorite may have contained the gas, since carbonaceous meteorites contain a small amount of organic material. To further muddy the waters, carbonaceous meteorites don’t even leave craters, since they break up in the atmosphere and rain down bits of organic shrapnel. Curiosity will take more measurements around the holiday season, since that’s the season during which the last bit of methane was detected in 2013.