Constraints on emission source locations of methane detected by Mars Science Laboratory

Viúdez-Moreiras, D., Richardson, M. I., & Newman, C. E. (2021). Constraints on emission source locations of methane detected by Mars Science Laboratory. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 126, e2021JE006958.

The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover has detected both methane spikes and variable background methane abundance in recent years in Gale Crater, Mars. While methane spikes have been attributed to a hypothetical local or regional source emission, the background measurements acquired during the nighttime were postulated to represent the global methane abundance on Mars. However, recent high-accuracy observations by instruments on the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) in several locations around the planet have not detected methane at all, apparently contradicting the SAM measurements. This paper analyzes the constraints that TGO and MSL impose on the hypothetical location of the emission source of methane responsible for the levels detected by SAM. The numerical simulations presented here indicate that not only the spikes but also the background measurements performed by MSL must result from localized emissions, specifically in the northwest interior of Gale Crater. Other simulated emission source locations at a greater distance from MSL, even if still within Gale Crater, are difficult to reconcile with current observations by MSL and TGO. Confirming previous studies, these results therefore point either to an improbable scenario, in which the rover has landed close to one of only a few localized emission sources on Mars, or to a problematic scenario, in which an unknown loss mechanism must be invoked that is able to destroy methane orders of magnitude faster than predicted by standard gas chemistry or to a weighted action between both scenarios.

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