In DepthPlanetary Science

Mars orbiter to sniff for methane

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Science  11 Mar 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6278, pp. 1122-1123
DOI: 10.1126/science.351.6278.1122

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Europe and Russia are set to launch a joint mission to Mars, as early as 14 March. Upon arrival in October, the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) will train its instruments on the Red Planet, in the hopes of resolving questions about the existence of methane gas, and whether it could hint at microbial life. The orbiter will look not only down at the planet, but also across its limb, into the sun, which will make the absorption lines associated with methane stand out sharply. The TGO will also carry a lander, Schiaparelli, which will test out key technologies such as a parachute and a radar altimeter. If successful, Schiaparelli would mark the first Mars landing by Europe—and it would pave the way for the launch of the ExoMars rover in 2018.