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Add Oxygen to Our Martian Methane Mystery

Add Oxygen to Our Martian Methane Mystery


Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 04 January 2020

 

ASTROPHYSICS: PLANATARY SCIENCES

Curiosity Rover Landing Site in Gale Crater
The Context of Curiosity Landing Site in Gale Crater, NASA.
The Context of Curiosity Landing Site in Gale Crater, NASA.

 

Add Oxygen to Our Martian Methane Mystery

With Mars Methane Mystery Unsolved, Curiosity Serves Scientists a New One: Oxygen,
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, November 12, 2019.

MAIN POINTS

Mars Atmosphere
Instrument
"...three Mars years (or nearly six Earth years) an instrument in the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) portable chemistry lab inside the belly of NASA’s Curiosity rover inhaled the air of Gale Crater and analyzed its composition."

Composition
"...the makeup of the Martian atmosphere at the surface: 95% by volume of carbon dioxide (CO2), 2.6% molecular nitrogen (N2), 1.9% argon (Ar), 0.16% molecular oxygen (O2), and 0.06% carbon monoxide (CO)."

Martian Seasons
"...the molecules in the Martian air mix and circulate with the changes in air pressure throughout the year. These changes are caused when CO2 gas freezes over the poles in the winter, thereby lowering the air pressure across the planet following redistribution of air to maintain pressure equilibrium. When CO2 evaporates in the spring and summer and mixes across Mars, it raises the air pressure."

Seasonal Atmospheric Composition
"Within this environment, scientists found that nitrogen and argon follow a predictable seasonal pattern, waxing and waning in concentration"

Oxygen Beyond Explanation
"...expected oxygen to do the same. But it didn’t. Instead, the amount of the gas in the air rose throughout spring and summer by as much as 30%, and then dropped back to levels predicted by known chemistry in fall. This pattern repeated each spring, though the amount of oxygen added to the atmosphere varied, implying that something was producing it and then taking it away."

Unexpected Seasonal Variation in Martian Atmospheric Oxygen
Seasonal Oxygen Vs. Expectations. NASA by Melissa Trainer/Dan Gallagher/NASA Goddard.
Seasonal Oxygen Vs. Expectations. NASA by Melissa Trainer/Dan Gallagher/NASA Goddard.

NASA
“We’re struggling to explain this.”

North Wall of Gale Crater
Today
North wall of Gale Crater from Curosity Rover, NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.
Image of the crater wall north of the Curiosity landing site, or behind the rover. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. More.

The Methane Mystery
"The instrument revealed that while methane rises and falls seasonally, it increases in abundance by about 60% in summer months for inexplicable reasons. (In fact, methane also spikes randomly and dramatically. Scientists are trying to figure out why.)"

Methane-Oxygen Relationship?
"...if chemistry similar to what’s driving methane’s natural seasonal variations may also drive oxygen’s. At least occasionally, the two gases appear to fluctuate in tandem."

The Mystery of Oxygen & Methane on Mars
How
"Oxygen and methane can be produced both biologically (from microbes, for instance) and abiotically (from chemistry related to water and rocks)."

"Curiosity doesn't have instruments that can definitively say whether the source of the methane or oxygen on Mars is biological or geological."

Focus
“We have not been able to come up with one process yet that produces the amount of oxygen we need, but we think it has to be something in the surface soil that changes seasonally because there aren’t enough available oxygen atoms in the atmosphere to create the behavior we see.”

Challenge
“For me, this is an open call to all the smart people out there who are interested in this: See what you can come up with.”

 

 

Recent Mars Research Highlights

Oct 2019
Where’d the Martian Methane Come From? Is it Alive?

 

June 2019
Lots of Water on Mars

 

April 2019
Ancient and Modern Martian Water: Two Research Summaries

 

Oct 2018
Supercold Martian Brines Hold Enough Oxygen to Support Life?

 

 

More Mars

May 2019
A Closer Look: Korolev Crater & the Moons of Mars

 

May 2018
Astrophysics News: Figuring out Mars Ancient Past

 

 

 

Astro-Physics Observations, Summer & Fall of 2019

News of Man & Nature, December 2019

 

 

 

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Martian, Mars, explanation, seasons, composition, atmosphere, oxygen, methane, fluctuations

 

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