Nasa's Mars rover, Curiosity, coming up empty-handed in its search for methane in the planet's atmosphere, is likely to throw a wet blanket on India’s forthcoming mission to the Red Planet.
The revelation is likely to affect Indian Space Research Organisation's (Isro's) Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), as one of the primary objective of the Rs450 crore venture is to detect the presence of methane, a gas that on Earth is a strong indicator of life, in the Martian atmosphere. A methane sensor for Mars (MSM) is among the five scientific instruments onboard the MOM spacecraft.
Curiosity landed on Mars in August 2012 to determine whether the planted, which is the closest to Earth in the solar system in terms of its atmospheric conditions, has or ever had the chemistry and conditions to support microbial life.
According to Nasa, the roving laboratory performed extensive tests to search for traces of Martian methane. The rover analysed Martian atmospheric samples for methane six times from October 2012 to June this year, but in vain.
Data retrieved from Curiosity pointing to the inexistence of methane in the Martian atmosphere, has given rise to concerns about the fate of Isro's MOM, which is scheduled to be launched from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota between October 21 and November 19.
Isro's scientists involved in the MOM project could not be reached for comments on the development. However, Nasa's lead scientist for Mars exploration, Michael Meyer, declined to accept that it is the end of the road for Mars-bound missions.
"This important result will help direct our efforts to examine the possibility of life on Mars. It reduces the probability of current methane-producing Martian microbes, but this addresses only one type of microbial metabolism. As we know, there are many types of terrestrial microbes that don't generate methane," Meyer is quoted in a Nasa press release.