The methane found on Mars could be brought from Earth by “Kyuryoshiti”

Illustration: NASA / JPL

Kevin Zahnle of the NASA Ames Research Center at the Astrobiological Institute seminar said that the source of the methane that “Kyuriositi” records is the mars rover itself. A brief summary of the views of the scientist and his opponents from the team “Curiosity” can be found on the websiteAstrobiology Magazine.According to Zanle, the methane contained in the pre-chamber of the laser spectrometer Curiosity and used to calibrate the sensitivity of the device could begin to seep into the Martian atmosphere next to the planet-god. Since its concentration in the pre-chamber is 1,000 times higher than that recorded by the rover in the atmosphere, leakage of even a part of the gas could cause a false detection of methane.

As the scientist notes, immediately after landing the device during the test measurements showed unusually high content of methane in the surrounding atmosphere. Then the scientific team of the rover escorted the result on the leak from the internal compartments of the apparatus, which occurred after significant overloads when landing on the surface of the Red Planet. It was suggested that the rover on the Earth accidentally managed to “dial” into the inner compartments of the earth’s air, in which methane is contained in significant quantities. Zanle explains that even if the source of methane is not in the spectrometer’s antechamber, we have no way of testing whether traces of earth’s air have remained in any compartment of the apparatus.

Researchers from the escort team “Kyuryoshiti” do not agree with the conclusions of Zanle. So Chris Webster, the lead author of the publication on the Martian methane released in 2015, doubts that the methane, which did not show any signs of leakage from the month of landing of the rover and until the second half of 2013, could somehow leave the spectrometer’s precursor. In addition, the amount of this methane by mass is negligible (the pre-chamber is very small) and even in the event of a complete leak into the surrounding atmosphere it will quickly leave the vicinity of the apparatus. Meanwhile, positive analyzes for methane were conducted with pauses for two weeks and it is unlikely that all this time insignificant amounts of methane from the precursor could remain next to the “Curiosity”.

If we are talking about the presence of terrestrial air in other sections of the rover, it is unclear why over a year or more on the surface of the Red Planet, all this air was not lost. The density of the atmosphere of Mars is a hundred times smaller than the Earth’s, while its gases are much heavier than the components of the earth’s air. At the slightest leaks, the remnants of the last air from the Earth would quickly rise to the upper layers of the atmosphere of Mars, or they would be blown away by the strong winds characteristic of this planet. As Webster notes, in 2015, “Kyuriosity” will again look for traces of methane in the same season as in previous years, and if it will again get a positive result, explaining them by replenishing the remnants of terrestrial air – years after landing – will be very difficult.

The question “is there methane on Mars” is shared by the scientific community for more than a decade. Since 2002, the spectrometers of ground-based observatories have been experiencing an increased concentration of methane in the atmosphere of the fourth planet. Since this gas on Earth is mainly produced by living things and rapidly degraded by ultraviolet, some scientists have suggested the possibility of a primitive bacterial life on the Red Planet. However, after 2004 such traces from the Earth could not be registered. There was a tense discussion about whether this could be an instrumental error or whether the gas appears in the Martian atmosphere only seasonally.

It was assumed that the on-board spectrometer of the rover “Curiosity” could close this discussion. In 2012-2013, he tried six times to find traces of methane and could not do it. And since August 2013, during four more attempts at analysis, he has consistently found traces of methane. Earlier there was a hypothesis that the reason for this could be the combustion in the atmosphere next to the rover of a small chondritic meteorite, often leaving no craters, but containing a small amount of methane and simple organic matter. Opponents of this hypothesis pointed out that it was unlikely that such a small amount of methane could determine the result of several time-separated analyzes of the Martian atmosphere.

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