NASA have reported that the Curiosity Rover on Mars has confused their scientists with a new reading of oxygen levels on the red planet.
In a statement, they said that the results show oxygen behaving in a way that scientists can’t explain through any chemical process.
Instead of following a predictable pattern, the oxygen levels inhaled and analysed by Curiosity above the Gale Crater were not consistent.
“Instead, the amount of the gas in the air rose throughout spring and summer by as much as 30%, and then dropped back to levels predicted by known chemistry in fall. This pattern repeated each spring, though the amount of oxygen added to the atmosphere varied, implying that something was producing it and then taking it away,” the statement said.
This is not the first time a gas has flummoxed scientists on Mars. Methane has produced equally confusing results as it also spikes and diminishes dramatically with no current explanation.
“We’re struggling to explain this,” said Melissa Trainer, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland who led the research. “The fact that the oxygen behavior isn’t perfectly repeatable every season makes us think that it’s not an issue that has to do with atmospheric dynamics. It has to be some chemical source and sink that we can’t yet account for.”
The Curiosity doesn’t have instruments that can run tests to decide whether the source of the methane is biological or geological. This makes finding out the cause of these fluctuations difficult for scientists.
“This is the first time where we’re seeing this interesting behavior over multiple years. We don’t totally understand it,” Trainer said. “For me, this is an open call to all the smart people out there who are interested in this: See what you can come up with.”
Image: Curiosity Rover/Twitter