A mysterious spike in methane on Mars, discovered by the rover Curiosity, signaled the possibility of life on the planet—but NASA is still searching for more answers.
On June 19, NASA’s Curiosity rover detected 21 parts per billion of methane on Mars, which is three times as much as previous records. On June 24, NASA said it ran a follow-up experiment and found Mars’ methane levels sharply decreased to standard levels.
“The methane mystery continues,” Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada stated in a press release. “We’re more motivated than ever to keep measuring and put our brains together to figure out how methane behaves in the Martian atmosphere.”
The initial result is significant because microbial life generates methane on Earth. Methane can also be created be geological activity. Curiosity, which is situated in Mars’ Gale Crater, isn’t equipped to identify the newly discovered methane’s source. NASA also said Mars’ methane levels rise and fall seasonally.
Curiosity has previously detected sudden spikes of methane, but scientists don’t know their cause or distinction from seasonal fluctuations.
NASA says it will collaborate with other missions, like the European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter, to begin to solve the puzzling “methane mystery” on Mars.