Low Upper Limit to Methane Abundance on Mars

Christopher R. Webster*, Paul R. Mahaffy, Sushil K. Atreya, Gregory J. Flesch, Kenneth A. Farley, MSL Science Team

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Citations (Scopus)


By analogy with Earth, methane in the Martian atmosphere is a potential signature of ongoing or past biological activity. During the past decade, Earth-based telescopic observations reported “plumes” of methane of tens of parts per billion by volume (ppbv), and those from Mars orbit showed localized patches, prompting speculation of sources from subsurface bacteria or nonbiological sources. From in situ measurements made with the Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS) on Curiosity using a distinctive spectral pattern specific to methane, we report no detection of atmospheric methane with a measured value of 0.18 ± 0.67 ppbv corresponding to an upper limit of only 1.3 ppbv (95% confidence level), which reduces the probability of current methanogenic microbial activity on Mars and limits the recent contribution from extraplanetary and geologic sources.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-357
Number of pages3
Issue number6156
Early online date19 Sept 2013
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2013

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgments: The research described here was carried out in part at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Data described in the paper are further described in the supplementary materials and have been submitted to NASA’s Planetary Data System under an arrangement with the Mars Science
Laboratory project.


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