A team of researchers led by Los Alamos National Laboratory graduate student John Ortiz published a study in the Journal of Geophysical Research on Jan. 22, 2024, showing that atmospheric pressure fluctuations that pull gases up from underground may be responsible for the release of subsurface methane into Mars' atmosphere. The study further suggested that knowing when and where to look for methane could help the Curiosity rover look for signs of life.
"Understanding Mars' methane variations has been highlighted by NASA's Curiosity team as the next important step toward finding out where methane comes from," Ortiz said, "and there are several challenges associated with achieving this goal, not the least of which is knowing what time of a given sol (Martian day) is best for Curiosity to conduct an atmospheric sampling experiment," he added.
They also modeled how methane is adsorbed into the pores of rocks, a temperature-dependent process that could contribute to fluctuations in methane levels.
"Our study suggests several important time windows for Curiosity to collect data. We think these offer the best chance to constrain the timing of methane fluctuations and bring us closer to understanding where it came from on Mars," Ortiz said.