Measurements taken by the Curiosity rover have detected minute amounts of methane in the Martian atmosphere.

I was wondering, is it possible that greater amounts of methane are present beneath the surface, i.e. several meters below the Martian soil?

I ask as I wonder if the discovery of large amounts of methane in the Martian soil may provide evidence of past/present life.

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    $\begingroup$ Methane was liberated from soil on Mars. It is maybe related with the 'death' of the planet. On Earth Methane is trapped and scientifists have fear about its liberation. Wait for a elaborated answer, nice question but I cannot quote you papers. $\endgroup$ – user12525 Sep 30 '18 at 9:17
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks! I have added what sparked my curiosity. I hope this aids following responses. $\endgroup$ – Bell Sep 30 '18 at 9:27
  • $\begingroup$ At my first comment I should add -if there was biological methane-. $\endgroup$ – user12525 Oct 8 '18 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ Didn't the Miller-Urey experiment use methane? Why use methane to investigate the origins of life if methane is only produced biotically? $\endgroup$ – Rodrigo de Azevedo May 6 at 7:22

Studies shows there is Methane on Earth's Crust. The chemical form how it is stored is called Methane Clathrate,

"a solid clathrate compound (more specifically, a clathrate hydrate) in which a large amount of methane is trapped within a crystal structure of water, forming a solid similar to ice."


There are two main origins for this structures on Earth's Crust, mainly developed at the Oceanic Crust and stored some centimeters or meters below the water interface, after the sulfate reduction zone:

  • Microbial reduction of CO2.

  • Thermal decomposition of organic matter.

Both sources imply organic activity so possibly your question encloses that much-contested question about whether there was or not life on Mars in the past.

Regardless there were or there were no life, Lefèvre et al.(2009), clarify the occurrence and possible sources for methane on Mars from what we know with our current observation possibilities:

"The detection of methane on Mars has revived the possibility of past or extinct life on this planet, despite the fact that an abiogenic origin is thought to be equally plausible"

They continue...

"An intriguing aspect of the recent observations of methane on Mars is that methane concentrations appear to be locally enhanced and change with the seasons."

And finally:

"We find that photochemistry as currently understood does not produce measurable variations in methane concentrations, even in the case of a current, local and episodic methane release. In contrast, we find that the condensation–sublimation cycle of Mars’ carbon dioxide atmosphere can generate large-scale methane variations differing from those observed."

This is still on debate and maybe someone can contribute quoting more recent articles, but the occurrence of Methane on Mars soil is measured, but this do not provide a proof that there was life on the planet.

That condensation-sublimation cycle may lead to CH4 storage on soil around the poles, and form a kind of "Methane permafrost", but formed for physical-chemical processes with no life interaction.

Also asking for "large amounts of Methane on soil", the answer possibly is no too, because either Mars had life, Earth's organic activity has developed big Methane Clathrate deposits on Oceanic Crust because of the listed organic associated process.

To recognize an organic origin of CH4, isotopes of C of the samples should show low concentrations of heavy C14, as life prefers to use lightweight ones: C13/C12 .

That hypothetical biologic Methane would be found on the big depression that was supposed to have a water ocean. The latest formed on soil would have been liberated to the atmosphere at the death of the ocean (because of pressure decrease), but rests of organic CH4 could maybe be found drilling the zone.

The new of past life occurrence has not yet been published, and could come from other chemical compounds. I usually cross my fingers when I think about it.

Lefèvre, F. Forget, F. "Observed variations of methane on Mars unexplained by known atmospheric chemistry and physics."Nature (2009)

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  • $\begingroup$ Hey! I was just wondering, have we actually determined the carbon isotopic ratio of methane on Mars using instruments aboard NASA's Curiosity rover (e.g. Tunable Laser Spectrometer)? The literature is a bit confusing, so I would really appreciate your help :) $\endgroup$ – Bell Oct 14 '18 at 8:25
  • $\begingroup$ I don't find that data on NASA. I found ESA is planning to measure it: exploration.esa.int/mars/46038-methane-on-mars $\endgroup$ – user12525 Oct 14 '18 at 10:53
  • $\begingroup$ Any ideas on know how they are planning to measure it? $\endgroup$ – Bell Oct 14 '18 at 22:52
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    $\begingroup$ If Curiosity has a mass spec, why do we need the EXO rover to determine the carbon isotope ratio of methane? $\endgroup$ – Bell Oct 15 '18 at 4:50
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    $\begingroup$ Also those cutty little walking labs are slow to travel around a hole planet. Where to land matters a lot Bell $\endgroup$ – user12525 Oct 15 '18 at 4:57

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