Story 2014-09-22 2SR8 Mysterious Mars Methane: Curiosity Sees No Sign

Mysterious Mars Methane: Curiosity Sees No Sign

in space on (#2SR8)
story imageIn the past decade, probes orbiting Mars and telescopes on Earth have detected what appeared to be plumes of methane gas from the Red Planet. The presence of colorless, odorless, flammable methane on Mars, the simplest organic molecule, helped revive the possibility of life once existing, or even currently living, just below the planet's surface. Scientists have suspected that methane stays stable in the Martian atmosphere for only about 300 years, so whatever is generating this gas did so recently.

A large-scale non-biological source of methane production on Mars might have been an even more exciting result. A renewable process humans might be able to adapt for use on Earth to meet our energy needs. But Curiosity has revealed no trace of methane on the Martian surface.

"Based on earlier observations, we were expecting to land on Mars and measure background levels of methane of at least several parts per billion, but saw nothing," Webster told

"It's a mystery surrounded by an enigma here," said imaging physicist Jan-Peter Muller.
Reply 10 comments

Possible sources (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-22 11:36 (#2SRB)

It would be really exciting to find some form of life there, but maybe they just aren't in the right spot.

As far as harvesting methane...We currently keep much livestock, and I hear rant about how cows are killing the ozone. Can't we collect that bovine flatulence somehow? It might be easier and less expensive than getting it from a neighboring planet, and it doesn't seem like most in our society will be excluding beef from our diet anytime soon. Why not get the most out of the cows as possible? I guess PETA would would be like, "THAT'S THEIR GAS, YOU GIVE IT BACK TO THE COWS!!!"

Re: Possible sources (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-22 17:47 (#2SSB)

It's quite possible to harvest all the excrement, put it into enclosed tanks, and use the methane to power generators and the like rather than just allowing it to escape into the atmosphere. Such projects seem to be more common with pigs than cows, probably because the former is so toxic and unpleasant to neighbors as well.

My question with cows is: What percentage of their methane emissions comes from decomposition of the solid waste? If significant portions of it is directly belched or farted into the air, it's going to be quite impractical to capture. Methane is lighter than air, so completely enclosing them inside a very tight-envelope building would work, but it would be extremely expensive to do.

Re: Possible sources (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-09-22 19:44 (#2SSF)

...or, you know, we could stop raising and eating quite so many of them. That could work too.

Just saying. (It's pretty accepted that the environmental damage from meat production is enormous compared to other protein sources.)

Re: Possible sources (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-23 01:24 (#2SSW)

Yeah, you should start working on that. Let me know how it goes.

Re: Possible sources (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-23 02:28 (#2SSZ)

I heard that most of the methane is generated in their gut and is expelled as burps rather than farts, a roof and partial walls with a gap at the bottom would probably do to collect most of the methane since it's lighter than air, then concentrate and compress into storage tanks.

Slashdot Beta (Score: -1, Offtopic)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-09-22 16:57 (#2SS8)

I got hit with it today. Did they finally pull the switch?

The link they provide at top to return to Classic does NOTHING for me on IE 8. I have to copy/paste the URL to get to the classic interface.

Sorry for derail but it's not submission worthy or anything...

Re: Slashdot Beta (Score: 2, Informative)

by on 2014-09-22 17:40 (#2SSA)

Nope, still seeing the older site whether logged-in or anonymous. Could have been site problems.

Re: Slashdot Beta (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-23 09:35 (#2STM)

I'm still getting the original site, which is nice. I still post there once in a while just cuz my sig has a link to here, Soylent, and comp.misc. Got to get the word out to those poor deck-class passengers still trapped on the sinking ship :)

Process of elimination (Score: 2, Interesting)

by on 2014-09-22 17:34 (#2SS9)

Methane detected from afar.
Methane not detected on ground.

Methane produced some distance above ground?

Maybe a tiny lightweight probe that launches a balloon (or lightweight plane) is in order. It doesn't ever have to land (although couldn't the backside of those heatshields easily be made into some nice big antenna dishes?), it could be launched while the heatshield etc. continues its fall. They already have concepts and some work done on both. Suggested names: Cowboy 1, 2, ..., n, better than Fart Fairies (although I would not object to that so now I'm undecided) :D

Re: Process of elimination (Score: 3, Funny)

by on 2014-09-22 18:06 (#2SSC)

Methane detected from afar.
Methane not detected on ground.
Methane produced some distance above ground?
Not the best Haiku I've ever read, but highly on-topic, so there's that. Well-done.