York University researchers will take part in a mission probing Mars’ atmosphere for methane sources in an effort to find evidence of life on the planet, wrote the North York Mirror Aug. 24:
Researchers from the Faculty of Science & Engineering will be part of a team of Canadian scientists responsible for a device that will measure and diagnose components of Mars’ atmosphere.
The instrument, dubbed MATMOS (Mars Atmospheric Trace Molecule Occultation Spectrometer) is a partnership between the California Institute of Technology, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
According to the University, the instrument, which has yet to be built, will ride aboard the ExoMars Trace Orbiter, a joint mission by NASA and the European Space Agency, slated to launch in 2016.
York scientists will engage in atmospheric modelling and analysis, constructing a weather and chemical forecast of Mars that will help analyze the MATMOS composition data to assess the sources of various component gases. Methane was discovered on Mars in 2003 in greater abundance than expected; because the gas is readily produced by biological activity, it is considered a key biomarker for signs of life.
“You can say in some respect [that] Mars can host life, but can it host life now?” asked Jack McConnell, professor of atmospheric science at York. “Mars has a bit of an ozone layer but it’s thin. Mars could have looked differently millions of years ago.”
McConnell, along with colleagues Professor Jim Whiteway and researcher Jacek Kaminski, will also lend expertise on the SOIR-NOMAD (Solar Occultation in the InfraRed – Nadir and Occultation for Mars Discovery), another instrument set to board the ExoMars Trace Orbiter.
As for the fascination surrounding the red planet, McConnell said it’s Earth’s nearest neighbour likely to have any evidence of life. “Venus isn’t likely, Mercury doesn’t have an atmosphere and Jupiter has no surface to speak of,” he said. “Mars is the thing nearest to us that can most likely harbour life. That’s what intrigues people.”
The MATMOS project announcement was made August 11.
Republished courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.