Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, March 29, 2004 12:55 pm

Life on Mars?

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 12:55 pm

Not only have enough traces of water been found on Mars to suggest that the planet might once have held life, enough methane has been found in its atmosphere to suggest that there might be life there right now:

Methane is not a stable molecule in the Martian atmosphere. If it was not replenished in some way, it would only last a few hundred years before it vanished.Scientists see two possibilities, both of them scientifically important, but one of them is sensational. …

It is possible that the methane is being produced by volcanic activity. … So far, no active volcanic hotspots have been detected on the planet by the many spacecraft currently in orbit.

[But] if active volcanism were responsible then it would be a major discovery with important implications. The heat released by any volcanism would melt the vast quantities of sub-surface ice discovered on the planet, producing an environment suitable for life.

On Earth, there are organisms called methanogens – microbes that produce methane from hydrogen and carbon dioxide. These organisms do not need oxygen to thrive, and they are thought to be the type of microbes that could possibly live on Mars.

The twin US space agency rovers that landed on the Red Planet in January will be unable to answer the question of the methane’s origin as they are designed for geological work.
But future missions could include sensors to analyse the methane to determine where it came from.

Methanogens are better known by their vernacular name: politicians.

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