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Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Methane Source Debate Heats Up

An olivine rock from Earth.
An olivine rock from Earth.
Credit: McHenry County College
As mentioned in the previous update's linked article, researchers at the University of Hawaii and Arizona State University have announced that they have found evidence of more olivine on Mars than previously thought. This would seem to imply that olivine is in fact responsible for the production of methane on Mars through the process described in the previous update. However it is far from certain that this is the case.

For instance, the published maps of methane and this olivine-rich region of Mars do not appear to match exactly. This does not mean that the methane is not caused by olivine; it could mean that the data is too imprecise or that dust storms prevented accurate data from being taken by the orbiters. To muddle things worse, olivine reacts strongly in the presence of water - and the correlation of water and methane that was found by an earlier group is very striking.

What is clear out of all this:
1. Since an estimated 6% of the methane observed on Mars could have come from external sources and volcanism, the methane is being made on Mars today.
2. It will take much more research and investigation to really know the answer to this problem, whether life, olivine undergoing serpentization, or something else.
3. We are living in exciting times for Mars research - and not in the Chinese curse sense.

(More info: University of Hawaii press release about more olivine, NASA Ames Marsoweb interactive data maps from MER selection, Space News Blog methane/water overlap, Planetary Society detailed article on sources of methane)

- posted by Brian @ 23:53 EST