Thursday, January 15, 2009

Methane on Mars

A panorama of the Martian landscape taken by NASA's Spirit rover on Jan. 1, 2006, from the bottom of Gusev Crater.

I first heard this news from England's The Sun newspaper, but wanted to wait until a slightly more reputable source reported on it. I'll have to settle for CNN. But the news is this: Scientists at two Hawaii observatories confirmed today they have discovered methane gas in Mars' atmosphere. This is significant because some scientists believe Martian bacteria could be the source of this methane.

Life on Mars is a possibility.

Of course, so are a lot of other things. Those explaining today's find also point out that geologic processes involving the oxidation of iron can also produces methane as a byproduct, and given that Mars' red color comes from oxidized iron, it's a fair bet that a lot of the Martian methane comes from this and other geologic sources, rather than biologic ones.

Still, it's fascinating to think that a future expedition might find methane-producing microbes on Mars.

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