Wind erosion has been ruled out as the primary cause of methane gas release on Mars, Newcastle University academics have shown.
Methane can be produced over time through both geological and biological routes and since its first detection in the Martian atmosphere in 2003, there has been intense speculation about the source of the gas and the possibility that it could signal life on the planet.
Previous studies have suggested the methane may not be evenly distributed in the atmosphere around Mars, but instead appear in localised and very temporary pockets on the planet’s surface. And the previous discovery of methane ‘spikes’ in the Martian atmosphere has further fuelled the debate.
Now research led by Newcastle University, UK, and published in Nature Scientific Reports, has ruled out the possibility that the levels of methane detected could be produced by the wind erosion of rocks, releasing trapped methane from fluid inclusions and fractures on the planets’ surface.
Principal Investigator Dr Jon Telling, a geochemist based in the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences at Newcastle University, said, “The questions are – where is this methane coming from, and is the source biological? That’s a massive question and to get to the answer we need to rule out lots of other factors first.
“We realised one potential source of the methane that people hadn’t really looked at in any detail before was wind erosion, releasing gases trapped within rocks. High resolution imagery from orbit over the last decade have shown that winds on Mars can drive much higher local rates of sand movement, and hence potential rates of sand erosion, than previously recognised…” [More at links]