The NASA equivalent of duct tape could complicate the search for life on Mars.
Astrobiologists found evidence for plumes of methane flowing from beneath the surface of Mars. Methane – on Earth, principally a byproduct of life – itself might indicate Martian life.
The next Mars rover, called Mars Science Laboratory or Curiosity, will launch late 2011 and will be equipped with instruments which can detect a single molecule of methane amongst a billion other molecules.
The problem is that a type of tape called kapton tape, used extensively on Curiosity, emits methane when exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
NASA scientists hope to counter this misleading methane detection by:
- Testing at night when radiation is lower
- Rotating the sensors into the Martian wind
- Modelling in more detail the production of methane from the kapton
- Taking measurements from later in the mission when methane production from kapton is low.