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Thursday, September 23, 2004

Theory About Fossil Fuels Leads to Methane Source on Mars

Oil Drilling
Oil Drilling
Credit: Del Harding
An underground theory that has become more popular with new research may have implications for potential life on Mars. The theory, which says that fossil fuels can form naturally in conditions found deep in the Earth's crust, describes how methane can form and be changed by microorganisms into the other fossil fuels that we use today. This is a far cry from the conventional theory, which says that fossil fuels are the result of the deaths of living things, leading to the term "fossil."

The new theory claims that microorganisms deep in the crust eat the oil formed by chemical reactions and account for the biological molecules found in petroleum products. New research showing microbes surviving in harsh conditions and the formation of methane through conditions mirroring the crust of the Earth back this theory up. With this thinking, there is as much life underground as on the surface of the Earth.

What does this have to do with Mars? There are two obvious possible implications. The first would be that the methane that the Mars Express found is not produced by life, and that it is in fact made by leftover methane buried in the crust. This would mean that a great deal of the indirect evidence we have for life would be put into question. The other alternative is that there is life buried on Mars, and it is eating inorganic oil and releasing methane. This yields the possibility of using conventional fossil fuels on Mars (with the appropriate oxygen source, of course).

Unfortunately, it will be hard to know which theory for the formation of fossil fuels is correct. And even if this theory is proven to be incorrect, we must use a higher level of caution when using indirect evidence to support claims of life on Mars. Still, the coincidence of water vapor and methane in the atmosphere certainly does point towards the generation of methane by life.

(More info: Yahoo! News)

- posted by Brian @ 19:14 EST