NASA's Curiosity catches a first whiff of Martian air

By Jennifer Keating,
Hoping for signs of life, the rover reveals that much of Mars' atmosphere is lost.

Since landing on Mars on August 5, NASA's rover Curiosity has been hard at work gathering data about Mars's environment and looking for signs of life.

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Now the rover has taken its first sample of Mars's air. Scientists and many of Curiosity's followers had hoped that the sample would reveal methane gas, a sign of past or present life on Mars. While this particular sample gave no indication of methane, it did reveal that much of Mars's atmosphere is gone -- at least half -- according to USA Today. It also confirmed that meteorites which were thought to be pieces of Mars did, in fact, come from that planet.

"We will continue looking for methane," says Chris Webster of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The absence of methane in Curiosity's present location of Gale crater, however, does not mean that it won't be found elsewhere on the Red Planet. As the L.A. Times reports, Curiosity still has much of its two-year mission left to make discoveries. The rover still has plenty of ground to cover along its mission to Mount Sharp, which is in the middle of Gale crater.

"At this time we don’t have a positive detection of methane on Mars … but that could change over time,” Sushil Atreya, of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said.

According to Curiosity's own Twitter page, "I found clues to changes in Mars' atmosphere, but no methane... yet. More observations planned."

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