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It's been almost a month since the ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) was put into orbit. Though it doesn't carry much scientific payload, the one most talked about is the methane sensor, which even MAVEN doesn't have. So my questions are:

  • Is it capable of positively confirming or denying the presence of methane?
  • What has the sensor found up till now? Has it confirmed any presence of methane on Mars?
  • If not, when can we except to hear some news?
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  • $\begingroup$ Except for the first part of your question you'll likely have to wait some time for answers to others just like the rest of us. Still, no harm in hurrying with the question IMHO, but perhaps you should mention in it if you're fine with partial answers or not. $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Oct 22 '14 at 16:17
  • $\begingroup$ @TildalWave Yes, I am fine with partial answers :) $\endgroup$ – Sawarnik Oct 22 '14 at 17:20
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[Update: This information has been superseded by more recent info, which challenges the operational value of the sensor data. See the other answer.]

As of March 2015, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) methane sensor has been working, but has not detected any methane.

ISRO has released some data on the operations so far. Emily Lakdawalla explains:

The map shows the reflectance of the surface of Mars in the methane sensor's reference channel, a wavelength in which atmospheric methane is transparent to infrared radiation. The data that underlie this map will eventually be compared to the methane sensor's other channel, a wavelength in which methane absorbs light, to attempt to map methane at the part-per-billion level in Mars' atmosphere.

Mars surface reflectance map

Source:

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I think they had an issue with the methane sensor. From India's Mars Orbiter Mission Has a Methane Problem:

The problem has to do with how the instrument collects and processes detections of methane in the atmosphere, a technique known as spectroscopy.

"Imagine that you hold your hand in front of you and extend your four fingers ... Suppose that each (finger) represents a methane line. What they have is a spectrometer that can be shifted to ... sample each one of the four fingers and then they have a second one that samples the region between the fingers.

"The trouble is they don't actually send back the spectra. What they send back is the two numbers - the sum of the fingers measured by the first channel and the sum of gaps measured by the second channel - and then they take a difference of those two numbers and they think that that's going to be the methane signal," Mumma said.

"The problem, of course, is that when you have other spectral lines ... like carbon dioxide lines which vary widely with temperature in terms of their intensity, then those two numbers ... don't represent methane alone. The net effect is that there is no way that one can back out those two signals in order to retrieve a methane signal," he said.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome! This is a great new answer. This site likes for answers to be able to stand on their own, because links go bad, so I've taken the liberty of adding in a quote from the article. $\endgroup$ – Wayne Conrad Jan 15 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ Is this stating that the mission was flawed from the get-go? $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Jan 16 at 15:20
  • $\begingroup$ With my understanding, the sensor was flawed from the 'get-go' but they didn't realize it until Mumma stumbled upon it. To best of my knowledge, he tried to get a comment on the situation and scientists who designed it is yet to provide any valuable feedback. $\endgroup$ – MyTwoCents Feb 6 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ The answer of mine is old, and I have no desire to update it since your answer already explains the situation well, but I have added a notice to the top pointing to your answer. I cannot remove the checkmark--only the asker can do that. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Jul 20 at 21:09
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, your comment is more enough than the checkmark. People keep referring to this post in conversations and don't seem to read the answer below. Thanks a ton. $\endgroup$ – MyTwoCents Jul 20 at 21:15

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