The United States space agency, NASA, says it’s Mars research vehicle recently recorded a high level of methane gas on the planet. The discovery is exciting because the presence of methane gas could support the case for life on Mars.
NASA’s Curiosity vehicle recently recorded the largest level of methane ever measured during its seven-year Mars mission.
Methane has no color or smell. A special instrument on Curiosity’s Mars Science Laboratory recorded the increased gas level. The device, called a laser spectrometer, measures levels of chemical elements and gases in the Martian atmosphere. In addition to methane, the instrument can record levels of water and carbon dioxide.
Nearly all the methane gas found in Earth’s atmosphere is produced by biological activity. It usually comes from animal and plant life. But it can also be formed by geological processes, such as communications between rocks and water.
NASA stated the increased methane was measured to be about 21 parts per billion by volume (ppbv). One ppbv means that if you take a volume of air on Mars, one billionth of the volume of air is methane.
It was not the first time Curiosity has found methane gas in the Martian atmosphere. About a year ago, NASA declared that Curiosity had discovered sharp seasonal increases in the gas.
This time, NASA announced the measured methane gas level was clearly larger than any others observed in the past. NASA officials even temporarily stopped Curiosity’s other activities to study further.
“It’s exciting because microbial life is an important source of methane on Earth,” NASA stated in a statement announcing the discovery.