We will investigate and explore the best route for solving the profound puzzles arising from the recent ground-truth detection of methane on
Mars by the Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS) onboard Curiosity [Webster et al.
2014]. This discovery reorients our understanding of the Martian environment
and its potential for life.
The current theoretical framework of Mars does not
entail any active source of CH4, and it is predicted to have a lifetime of ~300
years in the Martian atmosphere - far shorter than the planet's age [Summers et
al. 2002, Nair et al. 2005, Atreya et al. 2007, Lefevre & Forget 2009]. Hence,
methane's atmospheric existence requires a continually replenishing source,
potentially subverting assumptions of a geologically and biologically dead Mars
[Allen et al. 2006]. Furthermore, methane's high variability despite fast
atmospheric mixing (compared to its atmospheric lifetime) defies explanation.
This discovery necessitates a new era of research pursuing answers to the
questions: What is generating methane, and how is it destroyed or sequestered
This image illustrates possible ways methane might be added to Mars' atmosphere (sources) and removed from the atmosphere (sinks). NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has detected fluctuations in methane concentration in the atmosphere, implying both types of activity occur on modern Mars.
Under this program, an interdisciplinary group of experts will develop an
exploration and technology-development strategy for resolving methane sources
and sinks on Mars. Existing hypotheses of Martian methane sources include gas-water-rock
chemistry and microbes (methanogens). If proven, the former implies
the existence of environs offering liquid water and chemical sources of energy -
i.e. habitability - while the latter implies the discovery of life on Mars. Solving
these puzzles innately requires a concerted research effort across many
disciplines and major technological advancements, including new measurement
and exploration capabilities and methodologies. KISS's unique think-and-do-tank
approach, along with Caltech/JPL's leadership in Mars exploration makes this
program arguably the world's best platform for catalyzing the synthesis of a