Curiosity Rover finds high levels of methane on Mars

Curiosity rover
This self-portrait of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) during the 177th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (Feb. 3, 2013), plus three exposures taken during Sol 270 (May 10, 2013) to update the appearance of part of the ground beside the rover. Credit: NASA

A team working with NASA to study data the Mars Curiosity Rover has found high levels of methane at a site on the Red Planet. The existence of methane is, of course, a possible sign of life, since it is produced in abundance by microorganisms here on Earth.

The readings were reportedly three times as high as the previous record on Mars—enough for officials at NASA to change the schedule for the rover over the weekend. They had the rolling probe take more readings at the same site, which, the JPL reports, should be ready for release as early as today. If the readings are due to some form of life, NASA scientists expect it would be in the form of microbes living just under the surface.

Curiosity Rover has been on the surface of Mars since 2012, dutifully carrying out research—its mission was originally planned for just two years, but the little rover has continued to function despite wear and tear and the ever-present Martian dust. Back in 2013, Curiosity sent readings indicating that it had found some amount of methane, and a day later, the orbiter confirmed the readings. Interestingly, a European space probe called the Trace Gas Orbiter studied the same part of Mars in 2016 and could not find any trace of methane.

The discovery of methane on Mars is also interesting because the gas is known to break down when exposed to sunlight and other —thus, any methane found on the surface would have to be relatively new—within a couple of centuries. But the New York Times also notes that it is possible that a geological process long ago could have generated some amount of methane, and it became trapped beneath the surface—its presence on the surface now would be the result of a slow leak.

Curiosity detects unusually high methane levels
This image was taken by the left Navcam on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on June 18, 2019, the 2,440th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. It shows part of "Teal Ridge," which the rover has been studying within a region called the "clay-bearing unit." Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Marco Giuranna with the National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy has been assigned the task of studying methane measurements taken by the rover—he told the Times that he and his team have been analyzing the signals sent back by the and that there is a "lot of data to be processed."

Explore further

Scientists find likely source of methane on Mars

More information: For more information about Curiosity, visit

© 2019 Science X Network

Citation: Curiosity Rover finds high levels of methane on Mars (2019, June 24) retrieved 21 September 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Jun 24, 2019
for all the interest in mars ....the one experimental tool that seems would have the most direct function for why we are even sending anything to that planet is a microscope. Yet, a microscope is always omitted in favor of other various instruments.

Of course, there's a conspiracy involving that ...being that there is a microscope onboard, letting nasa and the us gov. get a heads up on the discovery and controlling the release of that knowledge to the public.

I dont think such a thing can be hidden though. Just find it odd to spend a massive amount of money to go someplace that is only interesting because of the potential for life and not just outfit it completely and only to look for direct evidence of it in multiple ways, with optical being the primary.

Jun 24, 2019
I agree with darth
I find it odd that no microscope was added to any of the rovers.

Jun 24, 2019
The wikipedia page shows that the Curiosity rover has a microscope and an x-ray scanner on board. I'm not sure how high powered it is, but it should be enough for this kind of work.

Jun 24, 2019
the microscopes onboard existing rovers are only meant for large objects... they would only be able to see the largest of microscopic life. They were not intended to look at the sizes that most life is, much less the very rudimentary (archaic) life forms that are the smallest. Instead they were meant to look at rock features.

The microscope on the curiosity is only able to resolve objects that are .1mm or larger. Way outside of the scope of bacteria

The x-ray scanner uses x-ray diffraction (think something similar to looking at the spectral lines in visible light) and doesn't produce an image or any direct evidence of life. Just the presence of minerals and elements that might indicate life (if it was similar to life on earth).

Jun 24, 2019
It wont last long

It's just a sympathetic reaction to the critical mass plutonium explosion in Colorado on the 8th of June.

Jun 25, 2019
Above 10 ppmv of Methane is considered an indicator of life.

21 ppbv isn't that much until you consider that the Martian atmosphere is much, much thinner and less dense AND the only abiotic geologic source for Methane production is serpentinization of Iron and CO2 in hydrothermal vents.

Mars has no known Oceans for hydrothermal vents to produce Methane abiotically.


Jun 25, 2019
Using microscopes, at least the simple kind, on Mars is a bit tricky. If you want to see bacteria, you probably have to stain them since they may be transparent. In order to apply a proper stain you need to know what kind of cellular membrane they have - chemically speaking. Otherwise you risk to look at them and see almost nothing, maybe some odd blur. Fossils would be a different thing. But then fossils could be similar to grains of dirt.

Jun 25, 2019
jeebus, i wish you looneyticks would get your official cult conspiracy ravings better coordinated.
you not only contradict yourselves
but you are also the bungling up the rantings of your fellow woomongers!

Jun 25, 2019
Most methane, around 3/4, on Earth is produced by life, but there are large methane reservoirs in the outer system (Titan's hydrological cycle, Enceladus vents) that are abiotic. The likeliest source on Mars is impactors, specifically carbon filled chondrites.

The spike is 3 times larger than earlier largest spike, so not much to obsess over as the NYT did. However it is interesting and I read that an orbiter that can detect methane passed at the time. Last time methane spilled over the crater wall into Gale the source was eventually found to be an area without any apparent fresh impact scar IIRC, so there is that - maybe it is thawing ice in cracks instead.

Re microscopes: It is true that almost all life detection protocols for fossils (except large fossil animals and plants) need microscale observation. But a light microscope is rarely sufficient and it takes months in specialized labs to do it, often differently for individual samples depending on their nature. So no loss as is.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more