Mars Burps Methane
It’s official—Mars has gas. Scientists recently confirmed that certain regions of the planet release methane into the Martian atmosphere. These findings open new questions about whether life exists on the Red Planet.
Earlier research suggested methane existed in the Martian atmosphere, but the results were ambiguous. Now, Michael Mumma of the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md. and his colleagues have carefully observed the planet for three Martian years—the equivalent of seven Earth years. Using the W. M. Keck and the NASA Infrared telescopes atop Mauna Kea, Hawai’i, the team zeroed in on the atmosphere of the Red Planet, which ranges between 36 million to over 250 million miles from Earth depending on the planets’ orbits. The new data definitely shows that Mars is alive either biologically or geochemically.
But since astronomers can’t yet tell if the methane is a byproduct of biological or geological processes, it is almost as if the planet is “egging us on and challenging us by saying, ‘Hey, find out what this means’,” Mumma says.