There is much talk about the potential of life on Mars lately, brought about by fleeting spike in methane on the red planet.
New evidence indicates that methane is a constant in the Martian subsurface and its rocks, yet no untimely suggestions should be made as to the existence of life, even in microbial form.
Whether there is or was any life on Mars is still a boggling question for the scientific community looking to better understand the rocky planet. Yet, this new research builds another stepping stone in establishing that methane is captured in Mars rocks, as well as underneath the planet’s crust.
Methane is a gas that supports microbial activity, and it could function the same on Mars. A simple organic molecule, methane was first found on Mars when the European Space Agency’s Express first landed on the rocky planet back in 2003.
Further accounts of methane on Mars were transmitted by NASA’s Curiosity Rover. Although there were some allegations that it might be Curiosity that’s releasing the methane, thus compromising the accuracy of data, this new evidence clears out that hypothesis.
On Earth, methane is a result of life. One of the instance where this is not the case is volcanic activity.
Researchers from the University of Western Ontario, Canada together with researchers from the Aberdeen University, Scottish Universities Environmental Research Center as well as Glasgow University and Brock University came together to analyze Mars meteorites that landed on Earth.
Sprung from cosmic impacts, the meteorites crash-landed on our planet, amounting over time to as much as 100 kg of material for analysis.
This particular study looked at six volcanic rocks from Mars. From each rock one sample of a quarter of gram was collected. The samples came from the interior of the rocks. The samples were then crushed to analyze their interior.
Preventing terrestrial contamination and other reactions that might compromise the accuracy of data was instrumental in handling the research. It was found that all six samples released methane, as well as other gases that are consistent with the proportions and isotopic composition of the atmosphere of Mars.
Perhaps the source of methane on Mars could be found in the chemical reactions occurring between volcanic rocks and the planet’s atmosphere. And perhaps, underneath the surface the existence of methane could be feeding microbes.
If these hypotheses could be proven, at least one sign of Martian life would be beaming on the horizon. Little by little, the team of researchers now hopes to expand the study to include an increasing number of meteorites from Mars.
Until more is known from the upcoming missions of both ESA and NASA, even this stepping stone is crucial.
Image Source: planetfacts.org