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Rick L. Sterling

Mike Mumma did specify specific longitudes associated with his Methane discovery. In his DPS poster he stated, " In March, it(CH4 R1 Spectral Line) shows an unusual spacial distribution, including an enhancement over equatorial regions where Odyssey found sub-surface hydrogen deposits.A different longitude region was sampled in May"

Bruce Moomaw

A few relevant notes:

(1) Ed Weiler told the SEUS and Origins Subcomittees of NASA's Space Science Division in February that the Bush Plan includes an increase in Mars funding that would allow the flight of TWO Mars Scouts in 2011 (plus a third "Mars Testbed" mission to test in-situ resource utilization and the safety of the Martian environment for humans). I've just been told by Jim Garvin at the Ames Astrobiology Science Conference that this is not a sure thing -- but if it does occur, it would of course greatly increase the chances of MARVEL or some other mission capable of measuring methane being launched then.

(2) David Grinspoon announced (in "Slate", of all places) that he has a team planning to propose a methane-detecting spectrometer for the 2009 Mars Surface Lab rover, which would sniff for particularly interesting surface locations during its long drive.

(3) In its 2003 review of the Mars exploration program, the Space Studies Board of the National Academy of Sciences listed the priorities which it felt were most likely to be inadequately covered by the existing U.S. missions. Two of the top four were "passive seismometers" and "a gas mass spectrometer in a long-lived surface package, to study the chemical dynamics and isotope ratios of C,H, O, and noble gases in the atmosphere" to study "sources, sinks, and reservoirs of volatiles". One of the six second-ranked goals was "long-lived landed humidity sensors to study the exchange of atmospheric water with the surface".

The SSB said that the major factors working against their recommendation for the US program were the fact that these experiments were scheduled for flight on Beagle 2 and the Netlanders, which of course is no longer relevant. Phoenix has been added to the schedule since then and would be able to make the two atmospheric measurements on one spot on the surface -- but clearly they would benefit from measurements in multiple locations, and the need to check out methane distribution and isotopic makeup makes the sort of mission you're talking about more likely as a US mission in 2011. (Especially if a few more surface measurements could be added -- although network missions have turned out to be a lot more difficult than first expected, which is why none made it into the last round of Mars Scout finalists.)

(4) I don't know yet how much capability Phoenix's mass spectrometer will have to break down methane by isotope -- but it is described as 20 times more sensitive to trace gases than the Vikings' mass spectrometers. I'll have to look into this.

Brian Ritchie

Just a reminder about ESA's Aurora program, detailed here: http://www.esa.int/export/SPECIALS/Aurora/SEM4RX1PGQD_0.html
Not much detail about the instruments on the planned rover, but I should imagine methane detection should be high on the list.

A.R. Yngve

This is a fascinating time for Mars research; I can't wait to learn more about the methane issue. Even if it turns out the gas was produced by humble subterranean bacteria, it would still be an amazing discovery.

Is it in any way possible that the methane is produced by surviving bacteria from earlier Mars probes, i.e. the Viking lander? (I think that would be extremely unlikely though.)

-A.R. Yngve

Bruce Moomaw

Very doubtful -- methanogenic Earth bacteria are anaerobic and tend to be killed by exposure to Earth's oxygen atmosphere. One poster at the just-complete Astrobiology Science Conference at Ames suggested that they may be less vulnerable to short exposures to oxygen than had been thought, but it's still virtually inconceivable that any of them have contaminated any of the spacecraft to hit Mars so far.


Just to say -

1) Very much enjoying the blog, found while googling for info on the current Mars rovers.

2) As a result, I've bought _Mapping Mars_ - (not through the Amazon link, but from a bookshop). It's a really elegant, thoughtful piece of writing, and I'd recommend everyone reading this to buy it!


Another "Thank you" for this discussion. I've really enjoyed reading it. Given the limited data, and that our assumptions can fail for another world, it is way too early for any strong conclusions. For all that, this is a wonderful example of the exciting new questions an earlier "answer" can bring.


Where do we go from here? Bring every instrument to bear on the methane question. The Hubble (declared to be redundant by Bush-baby) has methane imaging capabilities and should get right on it, as a demonstration for the Primate-in-Chief that gentleman's C's don't cut it in the 21st century.

The infrared camera NICMOS on HST might do the trick (capturing regional variations in methane and thus sources). Some web quotes:

"NICMOS photometry will be used to characterize the spectral energy distribution [of brown dwarfs] and search for methane absorption."

"HST images at methane continuum wavelengths from ultraviolet to red, as well as images through methane band filters in the red and infrared will be used to study the variation of the north-south asymmetry [of Titan] with time."

"Nearer to home, the planets Uranus and Jupiter are featured in recent NICMOS observations. NICMOS is important for this type of observation because of the trace amounts of methane CH4) in the atmospheres of these gas giants. In the visible spectral regions accessible to the other HST instruments, the methane bands are fairly weak, but bands beyond 1 micron in wavelength are much stronger. This allows the observation of clouds much higher in the planet's atmosphere; light is absorbed in a much shorter path than for the weaker bands, so only the highest clouds stand out in these images... Normally these faint rings are swamped by light from the planet,
but when most of the light from the planet is absorbed by the methane in its atmosphere, the rings (which reflect the Sun's light without absorbing it) come shining through. In the same way, faint inner satellites of Uranus are easily seen in these images."

José Matos

Congratulations for the blogue and I appreciated the discussion level on the methane in Mars. I am also convinced that in the 2009 mission, ESA will include in the rover an instrument to detect methane in the surface of Mars.I put a link in mine for this.


Could it be mars is a ghost of what earth will look like in the future. Isn't it pobissle that Mars was once an earth like planet till it's environment was killed off by it's inhabitants.You only have to go to Easter Island to see what man kind has done to destroy it.And all those statues looking out to sea waiting for help to arrive.On earth are we able to hold the deserts back. How much land are we losing to the deserts each year. I predict in the future Earth will look like Mars. Maybe we hopped from Mars just as our feet were being scorched. And now we will destroy this new planet we live on. So we have to find another planet to hop to soon. Am I crazy ???


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