Europe’s Spacecraft to sniff gas in Mars

After a year of launching the ExoMars spacecraft has finally reached its destined orbit around the planet of Mars. The scanning of the atmosphere of Mars for trace gases will be initiated by the Roscosmos orbiter and the European Space Agency in about two weeks. The scanning will give more importance to atmosphere traits which have a potential to life.

The ExoMars transitioned from a very elliptical orbit to an approx. the circular path which positioned the spacecraft about 400 kilometers away from the Red Planet's surface. Mars is orbited by the spacecraft, once every two hours and all that is pending now are the installation of new software and few final calibrations. After all, this is done the ExoMars instruments will point at the planet and detect various gasses of the planet. The instruments of the spacecraft are of the latest technologies and have the ability to sense and detect even the rare gasses in minute proportions. There is no doubt that the ExoMars will help extensively in finding out if the planet is geologically or biologically active today.

Like Earth, Mars also has an atmosphere. But it is very thin compared to that of our planet’s, about 100 times thinner. The atmosphere comprises 95% carbon dioxide, 2.7% nitrogen and 1.6% of oxygen. The atmosphere also has very low amounts of other trace gasses like the neon, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, water and others which account for only less than 1 percent. But the prime concern of scientists is methane gas. The instruments of ExoMars will be mainly searching for this methane gas, as it can help greatly in finding out whether the planet is biologically or geologically active today. On our planet methane mainly comes out of volcanoes, natural hydrocarbon gas reservoirs, and hydrothermal vents. But it is also one of the main byproducts of biological organisms, and hence its trace can help to find the activeness of the planet.

The detection of Methane can arise a lot of questions. Methane will last only for about 400 years in the atmosphere of Mars, as it will get broken down due to ultraviolet light, dispersion by strong winds and interaction with other chemicals. So, if ExoMars succeed in sniffing out methane, it will mean that the planet is very active geologically. And once that is confirmed, we could discover more on the planet’s ability for the sustenance of life (microorganisms).