NASA Detects Methane On Mars

NASA Detects Methane On Mars

NASA researchers have detected methane in the atmosphere of Mars which is the main component of natural gas on Earth. The recent discovery indicates that the Red Planet is either biologically or geologically active.

NASA researchers have detected methane in the atmosphere of Mars which is the main component of natural gas on Earth. The recent discovery indicates that the Red Planet is either biologically or geologically active. The discovery marks the first definitive detection of methane.

“Right now, we do not have enough information to tell whether biology or geology — or both — is producing the methane on Mars,” Michael Mumma, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement.

The scientists used NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility in Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The researchers used spectrometers on the telescopes to spread the light into its component colors, as a prism separates white light into a rainbow. The team detected three spectral features called absorption lines that together is a definitive signature of methane.

“At northern mid-summer, methane is released at a rate comparable to that of the massive hydrocarbon seep at Coal Oil Point in Santa Barbara, California,” Mumma said.

If there is Martian life on the Red Planet producing the methane, it likely resides far below the surface, where it’s still warm enough for liquid water to exist. Liquid water, as well as energy sources and a supply of carbon, are necessary for all known forms of life.

“Gases, like methane, accumulated in such underground zones might be released into the atmosphere if pores or fissures open during the warm seasons, connecting the deep zones to the atmosphere at crater walls or canyons,” Mumma said.

However, it is possible a geologic process produced the methane on Mars. For example, the conversion of iron oxide into the serpentine group of minerals creates methane on Earth. Such a conversion on Mars could proceed using water, carbon dioxide and the planet’s core heat.

Mars is currently releasing about 19,000 metric tons of methane from multiple plumes. The researchers say the plumes were emitted during warmer seasons and are seen over areas that show evidence of ancient ground ice or water.

 

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