Reports of plumes or patches of methane in the Martian atmosphere that vary over monthly timescales have defied explanation to date. From in situ measurements made over a 20-month period by the Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS) of the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite on Curiosity at Gale Crater, we report detection of background levels of atmospheric methane of mean value 0.69 ± 0.25 ppbv at the 95% confidence interval (CI). This abundance is lower than model estimates of ultraviolet (UV) degradation of accreted interplanetary dust particles (IDP’s) or carbonaceous chondrite material. Additionally, in four sequential measurements spanning a 60-sol period, we observed elevated levels of methane of 7.2 ± 2.1 (95% CI) ppbv implying that Mars is episodically producing methane from an additional unknown source.
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