New Answers for Mars’ Methane Mystery

There's methane on Mars, but only in Gale Crater, and only sporadically. Image Credit:

Planetary scientists perk up whenever methane is mentioned. Methane is produced by living things on Earth, so it’s considered to be a potential biosignature elsewhere. In recent years, MSL Curiosity detected methane coming from the surface of Gale Crater on Mars. So far, nobody’s successfully explained where it’s coming from.

NASA scientists have some new ideas.

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Perseverance Wraps Up Over 1,000 Days on Mars. Still Going Strong

Perseverance rover on Mars. Image credit: NASA

I can remember when Perseverance was launched, travelled out into the Solar System and landed on Mars in February 2021.  In all the time since it arrived, having clocked up 1000 days of exploration, it has collected 23 samples from different geological areas within the Jezero Crater. The area was once home to an ancient lake and if there is anywhere on Mars to find evidence of ancient (fossilised) life, it is here. 

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These Rocks Formed in an Ancient Lake on Mars

NASA’s Curiosity rover continues to search for signs that Mars’ Gale Crater conditions could support microbial life. Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.
NASA’s Curiosity rover continues to search for signs that Mars’ Gale Crater conditions could support microbial life. Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

We already know that water has existed on the surface of Mars but for how long? Curiosity has been searching for evidence for the long term presence of water on Mars and now, a team of researchers think they have found it. The rover has been exploring the Gale Crater and found it contains high concentrations of Manganese. The mineral doesn’t form easily on Mars so the team think it may have formed as deposits in an ancient lake. It is interesting too that life on Earth helps the formation of Manganese so its presence on Mars is a mystery.

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Starlink on Mars? NASA Is Paying SpaceX to Look Into the Idea

Starlink satellites in Earth orbit, under consideration for Mars
An artist's conception shows Starlink satellites in orbit. Credit: SpaceX

NASA has given the go-ahead for SpaceX to work out a plan to adapt its Starlink broadband internet satellites for use in a Martian communication network.

The idea is one of a dozen proposals that have won NASA funding for concept studies that could end up supporting the space agency’s strategy for bringing samples from Mars back to Earth for lab analysis. The proposals were submitted by nine companies — also including Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance, Astrobotic, Firefly Aerospace, Impulse Space, Albedo Space and Redwire Space.

Awardees will be paid $200,000 to $300,000 for their reports, which are due in August. NASA says the studies could lead to future requests for proposals, but it’s not yet making any commitment to follow up.

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Did An Ancient Icy Impactor Create the Martian Moons?

A composite image of Mars and its two moons, Phobos (foreground) and Deimos (background). Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The Martian moons Phobos and Deimos are oddballs. While other Solar System moons are round, Mars’ moons are misshapen and lumpy like potatoes. They’re more like asteroids or other small bodies than moons.

Because of their odd shapes and unusual compositions, scientists are still puzzling over their origins.

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Want to Start a Farm on Mars? This Rover Will Find Out if it’s Possible

AgroMars Rover

Travelling to Mars has its own challenges. The distance alone makes the journey something of a mission in itself. Arrive though, and the handwork has only just begun. Living and surviving on Mars will be perhaps humans biggest challenge yet.  It would be impossible to take everything along with you to survive so instead, it would be imperative to ‘live off the land’ and produce as much locally as possible. A new rover called AgroMars will be equipped with a number of agriculture related experiments to study the make up of the soil to assess its suitability for growing food. 

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Perseverance Finds its Dream Rock

This Martian rock, named Bunsen Peak, contains minerals that formed in the presence of water. On Earth, these water-deposited carbonate minerals are good at preserving ancient organic material. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

If there’s a Holy Grail on Mars, it’s probably a specific type of rock: A rock so important that it holds convincing clues to Mars’ ancient habitability.

Perseverance might have just found it.

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Mapping Lava Tubes on the Moon and Mars from Space

Sometimes, all you need for a new discovery is some creative math. That was the case for a new paper by Edward Williams and Laurent Montési of the University of Maryland’s Department of Geology. They released a brief paper at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference last month that describes a mathematical way to estimate the size of a lava tube using only remote sensing techniques.

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Curiosity has Reached an Ancient Debris Channel That Could Have Been Formed by Water

The steep path NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover took to reach Gediz Vallis channel is indicated in yellow in this visualization made with orbital data. At lower right is the point where the rover veered off to get an up-close look at a ridge formed long ago by debris flows from higher up on Mount Sharp. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UC Berkeley

Like a pilgrim seeking wisdom, NASA’s MSL Curiosity has been working its way up Mt. Sharp, the dominant central feature in Gale Crater. Now, almost 12 years into its mission, the capable rover has reached an interesting feature that could tell them more about Mars and its watery history. It’s called the Gediz Vallis channel.

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Search for Life on Mars Could Level-Up with MARSE Mission Concept

A breakdown of the Mars Astrobiology, Resource, and Science Explorers (MARSE) mission profile and its Simplified High Impact Energy Landing Device (SHIELD) system, which could revolutionize how we search for life on Mars by using four rovers at four different landing sites. (Credit: Longo (2024))

A recent study presented at the 55th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) discusses the Mars Astrobiology, Resource, and Science Explorers (MARSE) mission concept and its Simplified High Impact Energy Landing Device (SHIELD), which offers a broader and cheaper method regarding the search for—past or present—life on the Red Planet, specifically by using four rovers at four different landing sites across Mars’ surface instead of just one-for-one. This concept comes as NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers continue to tirelessly explore the surface of Mars at Gale Crater and Jezero Crater, respectively.

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