I know that Methane has been detected on Mars, however there seems to be a lack of specific information about the location and concentration of the Methane. Would it be possible to pinpoint the source of the Methane with current technology (E.G. Mass Spectrometers) or is it spread enough by Martian winds to not be detectable in any specified above-average concentration? Do we simply not have the coverage using the rover? What would be an example of a previous mission where we found an unexpected gas - has there been one and what did we do?

5-hour mark update:

I have since done more research and have found the following information regarding the sample analysis on Mars I have yet to analyze the sources provided on the page, but I am in the process of reading into each of the listed sources. Attached below is a Mass Spectrometer reading of the methane found on mars from 2012 to 2014: (the Mass Spectrometer did not measured a single molecule of methane, the reported readings are from TSL, a laser Spectrometer, not a mass spectrometer) enter image description here

Something that is notably lacking is the positions of the measurements as far as I could tell (I could be entirely wrong because my understanding of this graph is low) "Sol" (the number of days elapsed on Mars) can be used to estimate position (does anyone have this conversion of the graph?). Is there a utility that tracks Curiosity online in terms of "Sol" instead of days or an easy equation and resource that paths in days? I'm sure it's just a ratio. However, I also found this picture on the same page, stating the "theories for the Methane" but not actual scientific evidence.


Once again, still verifying sources, but this may jumpstart the answers. Please be harsh on correcting me if I use invalid diction or anything that is not relevant/scientifically accurate. I'm trying to learn as much as I can, and will take offense to nothing.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 This is an interesting question! When you say "Attached below is a Mass Spectrometer reading of the methane found on mars from 2012 to 2014:" could you add a link to the instrument that made the measurement? Could you explain if it a rover or lander on Mars, or perhaps a spacecraft orbiting Mars measuring the upper atmosphere (i.e. not on Mars). Are there really only four or five measurements points as shown in the plot? See for example how the question Why did the Earth based observations of methane on Mars go wrong? specifies location. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jun 1, 2018 at 4:39
  • $\begingroup$ @uhoh the link explains a lot of it, I believe it's a curiosity scacn. $\endgroup$ Jun 1, 2018 at 12:41
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    $\begingroup$ I know it seems redundant, but adding this information into the text of the post itself is better than saying it's in a link somewhere. It helps demonstrate thorough prior research, and helps preserve the integrity of the post after link-rot sets in. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jun 1, 2018 at 12:44
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    $\begingroup$ ESA Trace Gas Orbiter mission is intended to monitor composition of Mars atmosphere. It could help with understanding of methane sources. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ExoMars_Trace_Gas_Orbiter $\endgroup$
    – Heopps
    Jun 11, 2018 at 11:34

1 Answer 1


Would it be possible to pinpoint the source of the Methane with current technology

Yes. The purpose of ESA's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter mission is to locate the sources of trace gases, including methane:



The spacecraft arrived at Mars in 2016, and spent until early 2018 aerobraking into their preferred orbit. Hopefully they will begin reporting results sometime soon.

Do we simply not have the coverage using the rover?

Rovers can only measure data at their location. Determining even an approximate source will require much wider geographic coverage.

From here:

The Trace Gas Orbiter carries a scientific payload capable of addressing this scientific question, namely the detection and characterisation of trace gases in the Martian atmosphere. From its approximately 400-km-altitude science orbit, the instruments onboard the Trace Gas Orbiter will be deployed to detect a wide range of atmospheric trace gases (such as methane, water vapour, nitrogen oxides, acetylene), with an improved accuracy of three orders of magnitude compared to previous measurements.

The Trace Gas Orbiter will monitor seasonal changes in the atmosphere’s composition and temperature in order to create and refine detailed atmospheric models. Its instruments will also map the subsurface hydrogen to a depth of a metre, with improved spatial resolution compared with previous measurements. This could reveal deposits of water-ice hidden just below the surface, which, along with locations identified as sources of the trace gases, could influence the choice of landing sites of future missions.

  • $\begingroup$ Nice, well-sourced answer! +1 I've added a block quote to fortify it against broken links. Websites rearrange their material from time-to-time and so it's encouraged to add at least a sample of the relevant material in the answer itself so that future readers will be able to appreciate the answer even if/when links break. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Oct 8, 2018 at 2:38

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