NASA’s Curiosity rover finds new methane spike on Mars

This NASA photo obtained released June 19, 2019 shows a set of three CubeSats pictured shortly after being ejected from the Japanese Small Satellite Orbital Deployer attached to a robotic arm outside of the Japan (AFP)
Updated 25 June 2019

NASA’s Curiosity rover finds new methane spike on Mars

  • The Curiosity team has caught whiffs of methane many times over since Curiosity touched down on the Martian surface in 2012

WASHINGTON: NASA’s Curiosity Rover has detected the highest ever levels of methane in the course of its mission on Mars, an exciting discovery because the gas could point to the existence of microbial life.
But the methane could also be produced as a result of interactions between rocks and water.
Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) tunable laser spectrometer detected the reading — 21 parts per billion units by volume (ppbv) — sometime last week, NASA said Sunday.
“With our current measurements, we have no way of telling if the methane source is biology or geology, or even ancient or modern,” said Paul Mahaffy of NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
The Curiosity team has caught whiffs of methane many times over since Curiosity touched down on the Martian surface in 2012.
One leading theory is that the methane is being released from underground reservoirs created by ancient life forms.
Though Mars has no active volcanoes like on Earth, it is possible that methane is being released from geological processes, involving reactions of carbon from carbonate rocks or carbon dioxide, with hydrogen from liquid water.
At the right temperatures these reactions produce methane.
Past papers have documented how background levels of the colorless, odorless gas seem to rise and fall seasonally.
The team have also noted sudden spikes in methane, but cannot say how long these temporary plumes last or why they differ from the seasonal patterns.
Researchers organized a new experiment over the weekend to gather more information about the latest spike, a suspected transient plume, in order to add context to the measurement.
“Curiosity’s scientists need time to analyze these clues and conduct many more methane observations,” the team said.
“They also need time to collaborate with other science teams, including those with the European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter, which has been in its science orbit for a little over a year without detecting any methane.”
Combining readings from the surface and from orbit could help them pinpoint the source of the gas and understand how it interacts with the planet’s atmosphere, which is about a hundred times thinner than Earth’s and 95 percent carbon dioxide.
“That might explain why the Trace Gas Orbiter’s and Curiosity’s methane observations have been so different.”


At Davos, innovative products point to a sustainable future

Updated 24 January 2020

At Davos, innovative products point to a sustainable future

  • A single tree that to bear 40 different types of apple

DAVOS: The World Economic Forum is not all about the fourth industrial revolution or the rise of AI.

You can also find all manner of strange and intriguing products on display from biodegradable plastic made from algae to wallpaper made from recycled corn husks.

One stand titled “How do you design a tree?” is part of a conservation effort where a single tree is designed to bear 40 different types of apple.

Another stand displays colored seaweed on a rack, showing how clothes can be dyed in a sustainable, non-chemically corrosive manner.

Propped along a large wall is Fernando Laposse’s wallpaper made of variations of purple corn husks that are reinforced with recycled cardboard and cork to create wallpaper and furniture. The husks come from corn that needs very little water and can be grown in the desert, which makes it all the more sustainable.

“This initiative helps the local economy as it brings in jobs and a resurgence of crafts and food traditions while also ensuring sustainability,” Laposse said.

Another display shows a machine that extracts pellets from a mixture of algae and starch and is used to create a thread that is the base of 3D printing. These sustainable, biodegradable plastics made from algae are being experimented with in different regions.

With the rise of deep fakes — a branch of synthetic media in which a person in an existing image or video is replaced with someone else’s likeness — another stand delivers a warning on the looming dangers of unregulated software.

The Davos forum prides itself on its sustainability, and key topics have included climate, mobility, energy and the circular economy. Everything is recyclable, and participants must download an application in order to keep up with the program and any changes — a move to cut down on paper waste.