Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, Belgium Korablev et al.). The 1st results from ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter mission at Mars have been released and – surprise – no atmospheric methane. 24 July 2020. According to Webster: The methane is not coming from above. The ExoMars mission's Trace Gas Orbiter analyzed the Martian atmosphere, finding a surprising lack of traces of methane. Hydrogen indicates the presence of water, being one of the constituents of the water molecule; it can also indicate water absorbed into the surface, or minerals that were formed in the presence of water. That's even though methane on … But the first maps presented based on just a few month's data already exceed the resolution of previous measurements. "Because methane is generally at very low concentrations in the atmosphere of Mars, methane spikes or pulses on Mars may only be detected occasionally — when rovers, landers or orbiters happen to be at the right place at the right time," Giuranna, who is the principal investigator of the Mars Express' Planetary Fourier Spectrometer instrument, told in an email. Key measurements of methane made at Mars. Their findings were also published today in the journal Nature. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. They were also announced at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C. Two orbits in late November were dedicated to instrument calibration and initial science observations, where an excellent performance of all instruments could be confirmed. This enabled the vertical distribution of water vapour and ‘semi-heavy’ water – with one hydrogen atom replaced by a deuterium atom, a form of hydrogen with an additional neutron – to be plotted from close to the martian surface to above 80 km altitude. The teams also made the first observation of semi-heavy water simultaneously with water vapour, providing key information on the processes that control the amount of hydrogen and deuterium atoms escaping to space. Why has TGO found no methane yet when other previous missions and observations have? "This was theoretically predicted by models for a long time but this is the first time we have been able to observe it.". The teams also made the first observation of semi-heavy water simultaneously with water vapour, providing key information on the processes that control the amount of hydrogen and deuterium atoms escaping to space. It has been quite well established that the methane is there; the big question is where does it come from? “In the northern latitudes we saw features such as dust clouds at altitudes of around 25–40 km that were not there before, and in southern latitudes we saw dust layers moving to higher altitudes,” says Ann Carine Vandaele, principal investigator of the NOMAD instrument at the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy. Diagram showing the seasonal cycle of methane as detected by the Curiosity rover in Gale Crater. He is optimistic, saying that: I’m confident that over time there will be a consistency between the two data sets. Håkan Svedhem Scientists have been puzzling over the presence of methane on Mars for years. There was a problem. Dust absorbs the Sun’s radiation, heating the surrounding gas and causing it to expand, in turn redistributing other ingredients – like water – over a wider vertical range. Now, the mystery deepens. (Curiosity had detected background levels of methane 0.41 ppb during the same season in previous years.). "We need to be more patient with TGO, because one thing we have learned is that the methane story is full of surprises, and there are surely more to come," Chris Webster, a senior scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who also was not involved in the research, told in an email. Because it can be destroyed by solar radiation on timescales of several hundred years, any detection of the molecule in present times implies it must have been released relatively recently – even if the methane itself was produced millions or billions of years ago and remained trapped in underground reservoirs until now. "This might have an important impact on the results, as Martian dust storms represent a possible sink of atmospheric methane," Giuranna said. Trace gases occupy less than one percent of the atmosphere by volume, and require highly precise measurement techniques to determine their exact chemical fingerprints in the composition. The results seem disappointing, certainly, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Today (April 10), researchers reported the first results from the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), the spacecraft that's been circling the Red Planet sniffing for signs of life as part of the European-led ExoMars mission. Recent observations by the European Space Agency’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) have shown no presence of the methane, even though its instruments are more sensitive to tiny amounts than any of the instruments used previously. “It is important for the science on Mars, and it is also valuable for future Mars exploration.”. The ADS is operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory under NASA Cooperative ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter analyses the martian atmosphere. More recently, Mars Express observed a methane spike one day after one of Curiosity's highest-level readings. Earth-based telescopes have also reported both non-detections and transient measurements up to about 45 ppbv, while NASA’s Curiosity rover, exploring Gale Crater since 2012, has suggested a background level of methane that varies with the seasons between about 0.2 and 0.7 ppbv – with some higher level spikes. The observations scanned most of the atmosphere, going almost all the way down to the surface. Email:, Igor Mitrofanov “Neutron Mapping of Mars with High Spatial Resolution: First Results of FREND experiment of the ExoMars Project” by I.G. Receive news and offers from our other brands? "It would not surprise me if TGO detected methane sometime in the future.". ACS principal investigator Mitrofanov et al). In 2004, the Mars Express orbiter saw a methane spike of 10 ppb. Space is part of Future US Inc, an international media group and leading digital publisher. And even though the presence of methane on Mars has been seen as a potential biosignature, Svedhem said TGO's findings were not necessarily a blow to the prospect of finding life on Mars. ESA's Mars Express contributed one of the first measurements from orbit in 2004, at that time indicating the presence of methane amounting to 10 ppbv. "The speculations that were triggered by the first detections of methane stressed the connection between methane production on Earth and life on Earth," Svedhem told reporters. The scientists were sure they would see some methane, but when they analyzed the data sent back – they saw nothing. TGO’s first map of shallow subsurface water distribution on Mars (courtesy: ESA; spacecraft: ATG/medialab; data: I. Mitrofanov et al (2018)). “We are delighted with the first results from the Trace Gas Orbiter,” says Håkan Svedhem, ESA’s TGO project scientist. First results from the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. Agreement NNX16AC86A, AAS/Division for Planetary Sciences Meeting Abstracts #50, Is ADS down? ESA uses cookies to track visits to our website only, no personal information is collected. Researchers have proposed some explanations for where the methane on Mars could be going — that it could be sinking into the Martian rock and soil, or bonding chemically with eroded quartz grains, or being destroyed by reactive elements in shifting sand dunes — but these hypotheses are largely based on computer simulations and lab experiments on Earth. A higher temperature contrast between equatorial and polar regions is also set up, strengthening atmospheric circulation. The joint ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, or TGO, arrived at the Red Planet in October 2016, and spent more than one year using the aerobraking technique needed to reach its two-hour science orbit, 400 km above the surface of Mars. The solar occultation method is depicted: the onboard spectrometers – ACS and NOMAD – look at the way sunlight is absorbed in the atmosphere to reveal the chemical fingerprints of its ingredients. New York, While the lively debate on the nature and presence of methane continues, one sure thing is that water once existed on Mars – and still does in the form of water-ice, or as water-hydrated minerals. This is exciting because, on Earth, methane comes from two primary sources – biology and geology. In 2015, the blog was renamed as Planetaria. 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