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Tuesday, March 30, 2004



Methane Discovered on Mars

A computer drawing of a methane molecule.
A computer drawing of a methane molecule.
Credit: New York University
In a stunning announcement, the Mars Express orbiter and ground-based telescopes have discovered signs of methane in the Martian atmosphere. Methane has been one of the holy grails of Martian exploration, second to water, due to its likely link to current life. On Earth methane is primarily produced through life, with some outgassed by volcanoes. On Mars, volcanic activity is extremely limited or dead due to the cooling of the planet's core.

Methane is unstable and decays in around 300 years. This means that in the last 300 years, enough life or volcanic outgassing has been present to fill the atmosphere with 10.5 parts per billion methane. Another possibility, although not as likely, is that the methane is a result of cometary and meteorite impacts.

With the recent discovery of past liquid water, the confirmation of vast amounts of frozen water today, and now the discovery of methane, coinciding with greater understanding of how life works on Earth, the odds are becoming greater and greater that life existed on Mars in the past and exists even today. Although all of these things could exist without life necessarily being present, it is now considered likely by many scientists that life exists or existed. All that remains is to dig in the soil and look in a microscope -- perhaps a job that only a human exploration of Mars can accomplish.

(More info: Yahoo! News)


- posted by Brian @ 21:34 EST