When Curiosity detected methane nearly six years ago, it was speculated that the gas originated north of the rover because the prevailing winds were southward, and that the release likely occurred inside the crater.
Now, for the first time, this discovery by the Mars rover has been backed by an independent investigation into old data captured by the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer on board the Mars Express the very next day.
The near-invisible Martian atmosphere.
On June 16, 2013, the Curiosity rover's sensors picked up a spike of methane gas levels in the Gale Crater, the 96-mile crater where it had landed in 2012, The Guardian explained. During this time, the instrument noticed methane only once, which was on the same day Curiosity observed the sudden increase in methane on Mars.
The science world jumped back in 2013 when NASA's Curiosity apparently detected traces of methane on the red planet.
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Because methane gas dissipates relatively quickly - within around 12 years on Earth - and due to the difficulty of observing Mars' atmosphere, many scientists questioned previous studies that relied on a single data set.
The apparent presence of methane on Mars has fuelled intense speculation that the gas could emanate from microbial Martians beneath the surface.
Furthermore, they conducted two parallel experiments to determine the most likely source of methane on Mars to be an ice sheet east of Gale Crater - itself long assumed to be a dried up lake.
Tracing the methane source wasn't easy though: Scientists split up a large area around the Gale crater into a grid with squares, and then, researchers at Brussels' Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy used computer models to replicate one million different emission incidents in each square, Space.com noted. The features at Aeolis Mensae are thought to be favorable for this kind of permafrost formation, increasing the chance that periodic breaks or fault lines could allow for a release. This approach provides a template for future efforts aimed at locating sites of methane release from the subsurface on Mars. Both processes release the gas on Earth.
"We identified tectonic faults that might extend below a region proposed to contain shallow ice", study co-author Giuseppe Etiope from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology said in the ESA statement. This area of the Red Planet, which is dubbed Aeolis Mensae, has numerous geological faults that might have broken permafrost and released previously trapped methane.
"Remarkably, we saw that the atmospheric simulation and geological assessment, performed independently of each other, suggested the same region of provenance of the methane".