And now, the case of the disappearing methane

First, as posted a few days ago, there was the mystery of seemingly missing methane on an exoplanet. Now there’s another methane-related riddle, on Mars. First detected in 2003, the gas is being continually produced, but the origin is still unknown. It could be either geological or biological, and is concentrated in three areas in the northern hemisphere, regions of previous volcanic activity and underground water ice. The amount also varies with the seasons, increasing in the spring, more so in the summer, peaking in autumn and then rapidly decreasing in winter. That pattern could fit with either still-occurring hydrothermal activity or biology, ie. microbes, or both.

The new puzzle though is why the methane has now been observed to remain in the atmosphere for less than a Martian year. It was expected to last longer, so something is destroying it relatively quickly, faster than expected for a photochemical process (destruction by sunlight). As stated in the article, perhaps chemicals from the soil, being alofted into the atmosphere by winds.

So both the origin and demise of the Martian methane are currently unknown. Hopefully more answers can come from the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory rover (Curiosity) and the ExoMars missions, both of which are equipped to analyse the methane in more detail…

Blog update

I’ve tweaked the blog a bit more, updating the header graphic a bit and switching to a white background. Also playing with the CSS for other minor tweaks, but I like the feel now. Will add more blogs to the blogroll and photos to the photo galleries as I have time… 🙂

The case of the missing methane

In our solar system, all of the gas giant planets have abundant methane in their atmospheres. It was expected that similar planets in other solar systems would also, but one has been found which doesn’t… the planet GJ 436b, about the size of Neptune, orbiting a star 33 light-years from Earth. Based on analysis by the Spitzer Space Telescope, it appears to have almost none, which is a mystery. It should be noted that methane on these types of planets is primordial methane, a very simple molecule, left over from the planets’ original creation. On small rocky planets like Earth and Mars (and it exists on both), it can be either geological or biological in origin. In the case of Mars, the origin is still uncertain.

Artist's conception. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Great Red Spot in stunning detail

There is a great new blog post over at The Planetary Society Blog regarding a new, enhanced moasaic image of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, from the original Voyager 1 images taken in 1979. New computer technology not available then has brought out amazing new details. The new enhancements were done by Björn Jónsson. It looks like a painting but is very real…! Larger hi-res version is here.

Credit: NASA/JPL. Image processing: Björn Jónsson

Opportunity rover now halfway to Endeavour crater

The Opportunity rover passed the halfway mark this week on its long journey from Victoria crater to the huge 22 kilometre (14 mile) diameter Endeavour crater. A fitting first post for the new blog, as it is of course in Meridiani Planum where Opportunity has been travelling since 2004… It will be interesting as we get closer, because clay minerals have been found around the rim of the crater by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter; clay minerals form in non-acidic (alkaline) liquid water, so this would be yet another indicator of different surface conditions in the ancient Martian past…

The halfway point to Endeavour… Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Welcome to The Meridiani Journal (formerly Planetaria)

Welcome to the new and improved version of this blog! First, it was necessary to go back to the original name, The Meridiani Journal. The name Planetaria was no longer available as a proper domain name, which this blog now has finally or even as a just WordPress-based domain. But I still liked TMJ and it is more unique, which is important when there are so many blogs out there. The new domain url is now: themeridianijournal.com.

The biggest change, and most necessary, was moving the blog to a better blogging platform. As I am a long-time Apple user, and still am, I previously had the blog hosted on Apple’s MobileMe service. While adequate for basic blogging, it lacked a lot of features that more dedicated blogging platforms now have. I am now using the WordPress platform, one of the best blogging services there is. Now there are additional features available to readers, including monthly archives and category listings, category cloud, tags, comment subscriptions by email and post sharing such as Email, Press This, Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Reddit and StumbleUpon. You can still subscribe to updates by email, but this is now done directly through WordPress instead of FeedBurner as before. I am still using FeedBurner for the RSS feed updates, but they also now have the post sharing options included in the feed.

Please note the new RSS feed: feeds.feedburner.com/themeridianijournal. Anyone subscribed to the previous Planetaria feed will need to resubscribe to the new one. There is also a new Facebook page: facebook.com/themeridianijournal. You can’t change the page name in Facebook, so I had to create a new one for the new blog. The Twitter feed is still the same, just updated with the new name: twitter.com/themeridjournal. If you are already following, you do not need to do anything.

The blog also has an updated look and feel, thanks to the many templates available through WordPress. The main blog area now floats and scrolls over the dark background image, the appearance of which reminded me of some planetary surfaces, and seemed a nice fit for a space blog.

Also with WordPress, I can now do mobile updates on the iPhone and iPad using the new apps, something still not available with MobileMe. Easier to update the blog when I don’t always have to be at the desktop iMac to do it…

Will do a few more additions and tweaks, but the blog is now up and functioning at its new home… 🙂

Paul

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