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No methane in 'initial sniffs' of Martian air, says NASA

mars curiosity methane nasa jpl

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Lab demo of the measurement chamber inside the Tunable Laser Spectrometer — an atmosphere analysis instrument on NASA's Curiosity rover.

"The most sensitive measurements ever to search for methane gas on Mars" did not detect methane gas on Mars, reports NASA.

Preliminary results reveal little to no methane. Methane is of interest as a simple precursor chemical for life. On Earth, it can be produced by either biological or non-biological processes. 

Officials released the test results Friday during a teleconference from Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Scientists with the space agency are trying to figure out if Mars was ever hospitable to microbial life, and how the planet may have lost a substantial amount of original atmosphere.

Learning what happened to the Martian atmosphere will help scientists assess whether the planet ever was habitable. The present atmosphere of Mars is 100 times thinner than Earth's.

NASA's rover Curiosity used a number of tools — including a Tunable Laser Spectrometer which bounces infrared lasers between mirrors in an atmosphere-filled chamber — to study the "initial sniffs" of Maritian air.

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