Methane on Mars Could Mean Life

February 4th, 2009 | Sources: CNN, NY Times


NASA scientists have detected methane in the atmosphere of Mars, making it more likely—though far from certain—that life exists or existed on the planet.

seeanycows?In early 2003, the scientists observed methane plumes arising from 3 regions of the Red Planet’s northern hemisphere. A little more than a pound of the gas was vented per second according to the scientists, and 19,000 metric tons were spewed in total.

Methane is the primary component of what Earthlings call natural gas. Most of the methane found on Earth is produced by living things (cows come to mind) as a byproduct of food digestion.

But some non-biological processes also produce methane.

So Martian methane comes either from living things past or present, weird and wholly unexplained geological activity or a comet strike.

Lisa Pratt put her money on the former. “Perhaps we need to…think in terms of present-day life holding on somewhere in the subsurface,” she said at a NASA briefing covered by CNN and the New York Times.

The Indiana University geologist who was not involved with the research added, “It’s prudent that we begin to explore Mars looking for the possibility of a life form that’s exhaling methane.”

The NASA scientists observed the methane plumes on Mars using the Keck Telescope and a NASA-owned Infrared Telescope in Hawaii. They recently published their findings in Science.


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