Friday, February 12 at 7:30 p.m. via Zoom
Current Searches for Methane and other Organic Molecules in Mars’ Atmosphere
Br. Robert Novak
Professor Emeritus of Physics
Iona College, New Rochelle, NY
Three searches for methane in Mars’ atmosphere are currently ongoing. The Mars Curiosity Rover (Launched Nov. 26, 2011, landed August 6, 2012) has detected methane repeatedly throughout its time on Mars. The Trace Gas Orbiter launched by the European Space Agency in 2016, makes solar occultation measurements at sunrise and sunset. This instrument measures gases in the atmosphere above an altitude of 10 km; no detectable methane measurements have been reported up to now. NASA’s Astrobiology Group, headed by Dr. Michael Mumma, has been using infrared spectrometers attached to NASA’s 120-inch Infrared Telescope on Mauna Kea. They regularly detect methane on Mars and have reported upper limits for other organic molecules (such as ethane, methanol, etc.). The methodology used to make these measurements will be described, along with the criteria used to determine if these organics originate from living or non-living sources.
Br. Novak holds degrees in Physics from Iona College (B.S.,1972), Stevens Institute of Technology (M.S.,1977), and Columbia University (M.Phil., Ph.D.,1980). He taught at Iona College from 1976 to 2018, and worked in their Advancement Department between 2018 and 2020. He continues to observe Mars using the NASA-IRTF (Dec. 9, 10, and 11, 2020; Feb. 24, 25, and 26, 2021), analyzes data from these and previous data runs.