Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2014 December 22
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

The Mysterious Methane of Mars
Illustration Credit: Methane Workshop, Frascati Italy, Villanueva et al. 2009, NASA

Explanation: What's creating methane on Mars? Recent measurements from the robotic Curiosity rover currently rolling across Mars indicate a surprising 10-fold increase in atmospheric methane between measurements only months apart. Life is a major producer of methane on Earth, and so speculation is rampant that some sort of life -- possibly microbial life -- is creating methane beneath the surface of Mars. Other possibilities do exist, though, with a leading model being the sudden release of methane produced by the mixing of specific soil chemicals with underground water. Proposed origins of Martian methane are depicted in the featured illustration. The origin of Mars' methane is a very active area of research, with missions like Curiosity and India's Mars Orbiter Mission searching for clues by measuring methane abundance changes and possible byproducts of different methane-producing processes.

Tomorrow's picture: comet cliffs


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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (UMCP)
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