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Mars rover fails to find methane

Lack of gas in atmosphere argues against presence of life on Red Planet

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12:47pm, September 19, 2013

MISSING METHANE  NASA's Curiosity rover (shown) has  detected no methane in Mars’ atmosphere. The finding dampens hopes that  methane-making microbes live on the Red Planet. 

NASA’s Curiosity rover has come up empty-handed in its search for methane in the atmosphere of Mars, researchers report September 19 in Science.

During eight months of data collection, the rover detected average methane concentrations of 0.18 parts per billion. The researchers say that, because of the measurement’s margin of error, the finding translates to essentially no methane in the Martian atmosphere. 

“It’s disappointing because [methane] is a potential sign of biological activity,” says study coauthor Christopher Webster, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Microbes have produced up to 95 percent of the methane in Earth’s atmosphere, where the gas’s concentration is roughly 1,800 ppb.

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