Science

Methane gas found on Mars hints at possibility of life

Methane gas found on Mars hints at possibility of life”

Mars may finally be showing signs that life exists in the Red Planet.

However, the agency notes Curiosity does not contain instruments which can definitively say where the methane may have come from. Project scientist Ashwin R. Vasavada told the Curiosity science team in an email that "Given this surprising result, we've reorganized the weekend to run a follow-up experiment", the Times wrote.

But the Trace Gas Orbiter, a newer European spacecraft launched in 2016 with more sensitive instruments, did not detect any methane at all in its first batch of scientific observations past year. Results from the additional experiment may reach us by as early as Monday, according to the Times.

People have always been fascinated by the possibility of aliens on Mars.

However NASA's pioneering Viking landers in the 1970s revealed a desolate landscape on the Red Planet. Now, they are entertaining the notion that if life ever did arise on Mars, its microbial descendants could have migrated underground and persisted. Scientists know the gas was emitted fairly recently-after all, chemical reactions and sunlight break down its molecules over a few hundred years-but they don't know if living microbes released the methane or if it had been trapped underground for millions of years. When methane was similarly detected on the surface of Mars in 2004, scientists said that the methane could also be generated by geothermal reactions involving water and heat, though the exact mechanism by which that could occur on Mars remained an open question. However, those findings were at the edge of the detection power of these tools, and many researchers thought the methane might just be a mirage of mistaken data.

In practical terms, NASA explains it as one billionth part of a volume of Martian air sample will be methane. Then, in 2013, the rover detected a sudden rise in methane, with seven parts methane per billion, which endured for several months and then vanished. Its laser spectrometer instrument registered a methane spike of 21 parts per billion by volume (ppbv) in the Gale Crater, a region the rover has been exploring since it landed in 2012.

Even before this week's discovery, the mystery of methane has been deepening.

The 2013 findings have seemingly been confirmed by a reexamination of Mars Express readings from the time, which also indicated a spike in methane.

"While increased methane levels measured by Mars Curiosity are exciting, as possible indicators for life, it's important to remember this is an early science result", Nasa's Thomas Zurbuchen said on Twitter.



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