One of the most provocative questions about Mars today is what causes periodic surges in the accumulation of methane in a planetary atmosphere.
On Earth, methane is strongly associated with biological activity, increasing the likelihood that there are colonies producing methane, bacteria on Mars. According to another version, gas occurs as a result of geological activity, although attempts to compare bursts of methane with a frequency did not give a result.
NASA scientist Mark Fries and his colleagues have another answer to this question — meteor showers.
Freis studies samples of meteorites, comets and other extraterrestrial materials, and states that there is a relationship between the occurrence of methane bursts and the passage of Mars through the space filled with remnants of comets, the source material for meteorite rain.
"Solid carbon substances, also cometary, can produce significant amounts of methane ... under the influence of ultraviolet radiation," Freis and his colleagues wrote in a document submitted Monday at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Woodland, Texas. Scientists have discovered that all known detections of a methane burst occurred within 16 days, when Mars orbit intersected with a comet orbit that is capable of producing meteor showers.
“You have a mechanism that produces methane, and the relationship of time between the occurrence of meteorite rain and the appearance of methane,” said Freis Discovery News.
But not everyone is sure of it. NASA's planetary scientist Michael Mumma, who heads the team that made the initial discoveries of the methane spike on Mars, said that there were many times that Mars was approaching known meteor showers, but methane was not detected.
“Our team has been searching for (methane) for more than 30 multi-day campaigns since 2002, and only found methane in three (January 2003, March 2003 and May 2005),” Mumma wrote in an email to Discovery News.
“Other teams report similar rare detections. In short, there is no systematic relationship with meteor showers, ”he added.
Freis points out that ground-based telescopes should take into account methane in the Earth’s atmosphere, and NASA’s Curiosity rover, which has chemical gas detection instruments, has a very small field for sampling. Also, not all cometary streams ultimately cause meteor showers. The last word could be the European “Trace Gas Orbiter”, launched last week, for a seven-month journey to Mars. After it goes into orbit, the spacecraft will need about another year to take the correct position for observation.
“In principle, we will be able to test this hypothesis whether methane plumes really come from meteorite rains,” said Fries.
“We know when meteor showers should go ... and we can measure and see if there is a large amount of material that has fallen on the surface of Mars. And then we can deploy methane observation. ”