Friday, January 16, 2009
Much Ado About Methane (Is there life on Mars?)
NASA has a headline saying "Mars is Not a Dead Planet". The reason for this headline is the discovery of appreciable amounts of Methane on Mars. What's the fuss about a gas we usually associate with bottom burps from cows? Will precisely because they are associated with bottom burps from cows, due to methane generating bacteria. Bacteria are one way the methane on Mars could have been produced, it's seasonally produced and found in special hot spots. This could be an indicator that bacteria deep in the Martian crust are churning way at whatever it is bacteria do a kilometer of so underground.
Or it could be more prosaically due to volcanic activity, but Mars is supposed to be geologically pretty inactive. Either way, the prospect that Mars is either much more geologically active than we thought, or harbouring deep seated microbes, make this red world a heck of a lot more interesting.
The NASA story is here, and more images and animations here. Emily Lakdawallah has a great post on the whole issue. Here is an article from Astrobiology Magazine, one from New Scientist and finally one from Science.