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Plumes of methane identified on Mars - Finding could influence choice of landing site for Mars...
Nature News ^ | 21 October 2008 | Eric Hand

Posted on 10/21/2008 2:54:46 PM PDT by neverdem

Finding could influence choice of landing site for Mars Science Laboratory.

Ithaca, New York

More than four years after researchers first said they had found methane gas on Mars, a scientist claims that he has "nailed" the controversial detection and identified key sources of the gas.

Nili Fossae is a hotspot for martian methane, says Michael Mumma (below).Nili Fossae is a hotspot for martian methane, says Michael Mumma (below).JPL-Caltech/Univ. Arizona/NASA

On Earth, methane is mostly biological in origin; on Mars, it could signal microbes living deep underground. The latest work suggests that martian methane is concentrated in both space and time - at a handful of hotspots hundreds of kilometres across, plumes of methane bloom and dissipate in less than a year.

News of the detection is rippling through the Mars community just months before a destination is picked for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), the US$2-billionrover that is due to launch in 2009. It will carry an instrument that could both detect trace amounts of methane and help discern whether it is of biological or geological origin. One of the proposed methane plumes blankets one of the seven possible landing sites: Nili Fossae, which was given a middling ranking by the science community after a September evaluation that did not consider the emerging methane results.

"Now we've got these little signposts saying: 'Look, here I am. Come here!'" says Michael Mumma, a planetary scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. He presented his team's work on 11 October at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Ithaca, New York.

Michael MummaMichael Mumma, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.NASA

Mumma has been arguing for methane on Mars since 2003, when other startling findings began to emerge. One group, using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, found global trace methane levels of 10 parts per billion, but could see no more detail than that. A second group, using thousands of spectra taken by the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter, found similar global levels, with hints of regional variability in concentration (V. Formisano et al. Science 306, 1758-1761; 2004). But some of that paper's impact was diluted when the lead investigator, Vittorio Formisano of the Institute of Physics and Interplanetary Space in Rome, made separate claims of ammonia and formaldehyde that have not been confirmed.

Mumma, a spectroscopy expert, obtained data from telescopes in Hawaii and Chile that supported the notion of methane hotspots.

Now he says he knows for sure and is ready to publish. Having obtained four more years of data, Mumma has confirmed the presence of methane by matching four lines in his infrared spectra of the planet's atmosphere to the characteristic signature of methane - a more definite determination than previous analyses - and found more evidence that the methane is localized in discrete hotspots, which peak at levels of 60 parts per billion. "His numbers have changed a lot over time. But Mike has made a pretty compelling case," says Steven Squyres, a planetary scientist at Cornell University in Ithaca, and principal investigator for the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

“Now we've got these little signposts saying: 'Look, here I am. Come here!'”

More important than the peak concentrations, Mumma says, are the short lifetimes of the plumes. Previously, methane was thought to be destroyed in the atmosphere by sunlight - a slow process that allows the gas to mix in the atmosphere and persist for about 300 years. A global level of 10 parts per billion and a lifetime of hundreds of years means that a few hundred tonnes of methane are entering the atmosphere each year: the work of a few thousand cows. But plumes of 60 parts per billion that live for less than a year imply a methane-production rate several orders of magnitude higher. "This is a big deal," says Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, a co-author of the 2004 Mars Express paper.

Whether the methane plumes are biological or geological in origin is impossible to know at the moment, says Atreya. For example, microbes could be living in deep groundwater below a perma­frost zone, and their waste methane could percolate up and leak out. The methane could also come from chemical reactions in which buried volcanic rocks rich in the mineral olivine interact with water. A third possibility is that the methane is escaping from buried clathrates, deposits of methane ice formed long ago by one of the other two mechanisms.

But NASA's next Mars rover will be able to analyse, at levels of parts per trillion, the fractional concentrations of the carbon isotopes in each methane molecule. Life on Earth prefers to process lighter carbon-12 atoms. And so, on Mars, methane freighted with carbon-12 could be a sign of a biological origin.

John Grotzinger, a geologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and project scientist for the MSL, says the methane detection could be important in deciding the MSL's destination. "We're going to take this very seriously," he says. "We all need to sit back and evaluate the data and find out if Nili Fossae is the only place where this occurs." The methane results could be considered at a meeting early next month, when the seven sites are evaluated from an engineering and safety standpoint.

A reshuffling of the sites' rankings could be in order, Grotzinger adds, but he wants some hard data to consider. "Talks don't count. The paper needs to be published," he says.

A paper describing Mumma's work is under review at Science.



TOPICS: Culture/Society; Government; News/Current Events; US: District of Columbia; US: New York
KEYWORDS: catastrophism; mars; methane; msl; nasa; science; space; thomasgold
What's the taxable carbon footprint?
1 posted on 10/21/2008 2:54:48 PM PDT by neverdem
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To: neverdem

oh sure, spend all that money , all to land at the smelliest part of the planet.. something smells :-}


2 posted on 10/21/2008 2:56:43 PM PDT by NormsRevenge (Semper Fi ... "You know, when you can't ask a question of your leaders anymore, that gets scary,")
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To: neverdem
Place Uranus joke here.
3 posted on 10/21/2008 2:57:25 PM PDT by DainBramage
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To: KevinDavis

Ping!


4 posted on 10/21/2008 2:58:32 PM PDT by Army Air Corps (Four fried chickens and a coke)
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To: neverdem
Click: Houston, Major Tom here...we have the landing site in sight. 100 meters...75 meters...50 meters...Initiating steering jets for 7 degree right turn............."

This is ground control to Major Tom, your circuit's dead, there's something wrong. Can you hear me Major Tom? Can you hear me Major Tom?
5 posted on 10/21/2008 2:58:53 PM PDT by tongue-tied (Hey Taliban! Bite me, you will not win.)
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To: neverdem

Start the reactor!

Free Mars!

The planet is begging for exploration.


6 posted on 10/21/2008 2:59:15 PM PDT by Names Ash Housewares (Refusing to kneel before the polling gods and whimper. FIGHT!)
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To: DainBramage
Place Uranus joke here.

They won't Klingon.

7 posted on 10/21/2008 3:01:12 PM PDT by Zuben Elgenubi
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To: neverdem

wow more organic material from dinosaurs


8 posted on 10/21/2008 3:02:14 PM PDT by Flavius (war gives peace its security)
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To: neverdem

Mars pharts?


9 posted on 10/21/2008 3:02:20 PM PDT by NonValueAdded (Colin, descending)
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To: neverdem

Michael Mumma is NASA's methane plume expert, much to the sorrow of his officemates.

10 posted on 10/21/2008 3:02:36 PM PDT by KarlInOhio (Obama: Spread the Wealth = Marx: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs)
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To: KarlInOhio

His ideas are known as “Big Bang Theory”


11 posted on 10/21/2008 3:04:58 PM PDT by Zuben Elgenubi
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To: neverdem

Taxes, smaxes, methane will run that pink 57 Cadillac they took up yonder to check the place out. Elvis called and asked if they could bring it up.


12 posted on 10/21/2008 3:05:32 PM PDT by biff
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To: neverdem
"Pardon me."


13 posted on 10/21/2008 3:05:45 PM PDT by Yo-Yo
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To: Zuben Elgenubi

I wonder if these Plumes are any relation to Valerie Plume? Could the CIA be involved.


14 posted on 10/21/2008 3:06:08 PM PDT by DainBramage
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To: neverdem
Found the pasture at last!


15 posted on 10/21/2008 3:11:08 PM PDT by Dumpster Baby (They use rickshaws in London?)
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To: El Gato; Ernest_at_the_Beach; Robert A. Cook, PE; lepton; LadyDoc; jb6; tiamat; PGalt; Dianna; ...
Sun's protective 'bubble' is shrinking

New First-Aid Products Could Save Lives, Officials Say

Just a single hair can provide many pluripotent stem cells

FReepmail me if you want on or off my health and science ping list.

16 posted on 10/21/2008 3:12:19 PM PDT by neverdem (I'm praying for a Divine Intervention.)
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To: neverdem
NASA's next Mars rover will be able to analyse, at levels of parts per trillion, the fractional concentrations of the carbon isotopes in each methane molecule. Life on Earth prefers to process lighter carbon-12 atoms. And so, on Mars, methane freighted with carbon-12 could be a sign of a biological origin. -Eric Hand

Let me see if I understand. A known fraction of the carbon on Mars is carbon-12. The methane being plumed contains an unknown fraction of carbon-12. Once we are able to measure it, if there is a higher level of carbon-12 in the plumage, the greater we would estimate the probability to be that the processes that produce (or produced) the methane are (or were) biological.

Because the biological processes we know about tend to "prefer" lighter carbon.

17 posted on 10/21/2008 3:17:46 PM PDT by NutCrackerBoy
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To: DainBramage

It’s Marvin the Fartin’ Martian.


18 posted on 10/21/2008 3:21:45 PM PDT by rfp1234 (Phodopus campbelli: household ruler since July 2007.)
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To: neverdem

So it turns out that hydrocarbons are the basic building block of the universe... the universe is made of hydrocarbons.


19 posted on 10/21/2008 3:22:57 PM PDT by marron
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To: rfp1234

“Where’s the Kaboom?”


20 posted on 10/21/2008 3:23:06 PM PDT by dfwgator (I hate Illinois Marxists)
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To: neverdem

If there is methane, there must be cows as well!


21 posted on 10/21/2008 3:26:03 PM PDT by 3AngelaD (They screwed up their own countries so bad they had to leave, and now they're here screwing up ours.)
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To: neverdem

The temperature on Mars at night often reaches -100 degrees F. Wonder if Algore can explain how a planet with an atmosphere consisting mostly of CO2 with a high percentage of Methane is so cold?


22 posted on 10/21/2008 3:31:33 PM PDT by Mogollon
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To: neverdem

Martian farts ... must be all that splenda and government cheese they’ve been eating.


23 posted on 10/21/2008 3:36:34 PM PDT by Centurion2000 (... against all enemies, foreign and domestic.)
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To: neverdem

Plumes of Methane? There are cows on Mars? Or did Gore get there by shuttle?


24 posted on 10/21/2008 3:38:40 PM PDT by PzLdr ("The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am" - Darth Vader)
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To: Yo-Yo

Hilarious!


25 posted on 10/21/2008 3:45:05 PM PDT by I-ambush
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To: 75thOVI; aimhigh; Alice in Wonderland; AndrewC; aristotleman; Avoiding_Sulla; BBell; BenLurkin; ...
Methane, youthane, everybody thane. Thanks neverdem.
 
Catastrophism
 
· join · view topics · view or post blog · bookmark · post new topic ·

26 posted on 10/21/2008 5:47:27 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/_______Profile finally updated Saturday, October 11, 2008 !!!)
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It is widely doubted, but IMO The Viking Labeled Release Experiment and Life on Mars designed by Gilbert V. Levin found life on Mars. I've never found the supposed evidence from the supposed Martian meteorites compelling though.
27 posted on 10/21/2008 5:49:55 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/_______Profile finally updated Saturday, October 11, 2008 !!!)
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To: SunkenCiv; Slings and Arrows

Thanks for the ping. I gather this is going to be a humorous thread.


28 posted on 10/21/2008 6:08:48 PM PDT by Kevmo (I love that sound and please let that baby keep on crying. ~Sarah Palin)
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To: Kevmo

I’m pretty sure someone will mention Uranus at some point.


29 posted on 10/21/2008 6:16:41 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/_______Profile finally updated Saturday, October 11, 2008 !!!)
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To: markman46; AntiKev; wastedyears; ALOHA RONNIE; RightWhale; anymouse; Brett66; SunkenCiv; ...
Of course if Obama is elected all of this will go away..


30 posted on 10/22/2008 6:56:15 PM PDT by KevinDavis (McCain/Palin 08 Palin/Jindal 12)
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To: neverdem

Where there is gas there is oil.

Drill Mars! :-)


31 posted on 10/22/2008 7:10:56 PM PDT by Red Steel
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To: neverdem
Though methane is a component of black smokers about Earth's ridge systems, so this may well be non-biogenic as well.

Now...were there oil discovered on Mars!...

32 posted on 10/22/2008 7:34:59 PM PDT by onedoug ( Barracuda!)
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To: Slings and Arrows

Ping...


33 posted on 10/22/2008 7:37:24 PM PDT by Grizzled Bear ("Does not play well with others.")
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To: dfwgator

Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator

“Where’s the big kaboom? There’s supposed to be an Earth-shattering kaboom!”


34 posted on 10/22/2008 9:31:01 PM PDT by wastedyears (Another October 14th, another year older.)
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To: Kevmo; MeekOneGOP; Conspiracy Guy; DocRock; King Prout; Darksheare; OSHA; martin_fierro; ...
Payload for the next Mars mission:



35 posted on 10/22/2008 9:57:16 PM PDT by Slings and Arrows ("I am Barack Obama, and I endorse this bomb." --Roger Simon)
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To: NonValueAdded

"Get your ass to Mars!"

"I can't breath. That must have been a nasty bit of gas you passed." ;)

36 posted on 10/22/2008 11:09:36 PM PDT by anymouse
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To: Slings and Arrows

37 posted on 10/23/2008 3:33:51 AM PDT by Daffynition (The most terrifying words in the English langauge are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.)
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To: neverdem

oh....excuse me

38 posted on 10/23/2008 4:15:57 AM PDT by Vaquero ("an armed society is a polite society" Robert A. Heinlein)
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To: neverdem

First Lasers in the atmosphere

http://laserstars.org/history/mars.html

now this.


39 posted on 10/23/2008 4:23:42 AM PDT by TNMountainMan
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