Wednesday 23 October 2019

Methane spike could be sign of life on Mars

Findings: Nasa’s Curiosity rover has discovered higher levels of methane.
Findings: Nasa’s Curiosity rover has discovered higher levels of methane.

James Rothwell

NASA'S Curiosity rover has detected another methane "spike" on Mars, in what could be a sign of alien life.

According to 'The New York Times', which published an email written by senior Nasa scientists, the rover detected "startlingly high amounts of methane in the Martian air".

The data hints at an even greater discovery - life on Mars - because methane is often generated by underground microbes, known as methanogens, which can survive without oxygen.

"Given this surprising result, we've reorganised the weekend to run a follow-up experiment," wrote scientist Ashwin R Vasavada in the email.

It is not the first time Nasa's robot has detected methane levels on the planet, and scientists are still not sure whether the gas is caused by living microbes, because geothermal reactions, with no biological life, can also create methane.

When Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012 it found barely any traces of methane, with less than one part per billion in the atmosphere. Then, in 2013, the rover detected a sudden rise in methane, with seven parts methane per billion, which endured for several months and then vanished.

The most recent discovery of methane is 21 parts per billion, three times higher than 2013.

Scientists are also not ruling out the possibility that the methane is not recent but is gradually emerging through cracks in the surface.

"While increased methane levels measured by Mars Curiosity are exciting, as possible indicators for life, it's important to remember this is an early science result," Nasa's Thomas Zurbuchen said on Twitter. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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