The European Space Agency's Trace Gas Orbiter sent back its first images of the Martian surface. Even though the orbiter was launched back in 2016, it was just now that it got into the right orbit to begin its mission.
Trace Gas Orbiter's main mission is to look for trace amounts of methane and other gases in the Martian atmosphere.
Trace Gas Orbiter
The Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) used its Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) on March 20 to take photos of Mars. It took the TGO 1,000 circuits to find the precise location to begin scientific tests. TGO is the first spacecraft that is designed to study the gases that make up less than 1 percent of the Martian atmosphere. These include methane, water vapor, and ozone.
The ESA shared a photo taken by TGO on April 15 from 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the surface of Mars. It created a composite photo that shows 25 miles (40 kilometers) of the Northern Hemisphere of the Red Planet. The area shows the Korolev impact crater.
To study the Martian atmosphere, TGO has four instruments: a camera, two spectrometers, and a neutron detector. Its job is to get a better picture of the planet's atmosphere. It has been tasked with the job of looking into the methane. Methane is produced by biological and geological processes. Researchers would like to learn about the origin of the methane.
The atmosphere on Mars is almost entirely made up of carbon dioxide. This is why the traces of methane are of particular interest to the ExoMars mission. Researchers are trying to determine if the methane that is found on Mars is of biological origin. Almost 95 percent of the methane on Earth comes from biological sources.
Methane on Mars has been recorded by scientists using telescopes, orbiters, and NASA's Curiosity rover. This has surprised researchers because they say that chemical reactions should deplete the amount of methane in the atmosphere, but it continues to be observed. This finding suggests that there must be something continuing to produce more methane into the atmosphere.
NASA's Curiosity rover keeps detecting different levels of methane in the atmosphere. Using its tools, it detects on average 0.5 parts per billion (p.p.b.) background level. This changes over time. It has also detected plumes of around 7 p.p.b. of methane in the atmosphere. Large plumes with concentrations of 45 p.p.b. of methane were also observed.