Mangalyaan Has a Methane Problem

After more than two years, Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) also called as “MANGALYAAN” reached the red planet. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has release highly anticipated measurements of atmospheric methane. And the methane is strongly attached to life on Earth. Due to a sensor design, Seeker has learned that the data will never come.

“They did not design this properly for the detection of methane on Mars,” Michael Mumma, senior scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

In 2003, Michael Mumma led a team that made the first definitive measurements of methane on Mars using an infrared telescope in Hawaii. The methane, which appeared in plumes over specific regions of Mars, reached a maximum density of about 60 parts per billion.

Another is, “The instrument is beautifully engineered, but not for the methane task. It has other value, but unfortunately they will not be able to provide measurements of methane at the levels needed to sample even the plumes we saw.”

What is Spectroscopy?

  • The branch of science concerned with the investigation and measurement of spectra produced when matter interacts with or emits electromagnetic radiation. But in that point, the problem has to do with how the instrument collects and processes detections of methane in the atmosphere, a technique known as spectroscopy.

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

Michael Mumma said that: “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.”

Of course, the problem is when you have other spectral line like carbon dioxide which is widely spread in Mars atmosphere in terms of their intensity. Not only represent methane alone on Mars.

In ISRO, Methane Sensor for Mars is designed to measure methane (CH4) in the Martian atmosphere with parts-per-billion (ppb) accuracy and map its sources. Data is acquired only over illuminated areas as the sensor measures reflected solar radiation. But the point is the engineers know how to build a good instrument. That’s not the issue. The problem is they didn’t have the scientific guidance needed to tell them exactly what they needed to do. Seetha Somasundaram, with ISRO’s Satellite Center which designed the instrument.

Michael Mumma and other scientists are now pinning their hopes on getting Mars methane measurements from Europe’s newly arrived Trace Gas Orbiter.


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