Methane in Martian Meteorites Might Mean Life on the Red Planet

Methane in Martian Meteorites Might Mean Life on the Red Planet

Researchers studying Martian meteorites have discovered methane just under the surface. The gas, common in Earth's ecosystems, is more evidence that the red planet once held life - and maybe still does.

When scientists cracked open a half dozen ancient Martian meteorites last year, they discovered notable amounts of methane - a gas which, on Earth, is heavily associated with the presence of living organisms. The discovery adds yet more evidence to the theory that Mars was once a life-supporting planet - and possibly still is.

The paper, published in Nature Communications, describes how the researchers took six meteorites, composed of basic igneous rock, and crushed them, liberating a surprising amount of methane from below the surface. The meteorites are old, and no doubt Mars has changed a great deal since these rocks left their home to crash on ours, but the presence of the gas give us an idea of what the red planet must have once looked like.

Methane, it should be said, can be produced through non-organic processes. On Earth, however, the gas is primarily produced by living things. Not only that, but some single-celled organisms thrive on a diet of methane, meaning that presence of the gas not only indicates the presence of basic life, but maybe a thriving ecosystem, as well.

In fact, the possibility of methane on the red planet is one of the inciting factors in many Mars missions. Last year, NASA's Curiosity observed wafts of methane emerging from the planet's surface, suggesting that the gas is still be produced on the planet today.

The surface of Mars is often considered hostile to life. A thin atmosphere allows cosmic radiation to blast the planet constantly, and temperatures drop as low as -90C. The meteorite findings - combined with Curiosity's - suggest there may be a much more hospitable environment just below the planet's red soil, protected from the extremes of the surface.

A few months ago, NASA claimed that alien life will be found within the next 10 to 20 years. Are we closer than ever to a Close Encounter? And will our cosmic neighbours be anything like what we imagined?

Source: Nature Communications, The Guardian

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So close to the most alliterated headline for this decade... But good for science!

I wanted to keep going but it was getting ridiculous: "Methane in Martian Meteorites Might Mean... Metabolism on Maroon Mass! Maybe?"

Am I the only one who feels it's excessively cheap of the Guardian to use a red-tinted random heightmap instead of an actual Mars globe? Not like we haven't had maps of the martian surface for like a century or anything ...

"Methane in Martian Meteorites Might Motivate More Missions to Measure ...." (I ran out of ideas)

Wasn't this news story reported last year? I distinctively remember reading about this on The Escapist.

EDIT found it - http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/139107-Signs-of-Life-Methane-Spikes-Detected-on-Mars-Intermittently-by-Curiosity

UMID:
Am I the only one who feels it's excessively cheap of the Guardian to use a red-tinted random heightmap instead of an actual Mars globe? Not like we haven't had maps of the martian surface for like a century or anything ...

Yeah, one of the first things I noticed was that odd orange globe looked nothing like Mars, even the colour is much too bright. Where's Vastitas Borealis, Valles Marineris, or the Tharsis Bulge?

On topic, this is not exactly new but still exciting. Methane could be a pretty good indicator of life, especially if it's still being produced. Mars is geologically pretty inactive, so it is a little less likely the methane is being produced geologically.

Plot twist: the poor rock they crushed WAS the organism. They just didn't recognize it as one. ;-)

*Marvin the Martian*

Oooh, life on Mars! Isn't that lovely? I must blow up the Earth now!

Nergui:
Wasn't this news story reported last year? I distinctively remember reading about this on The Escapist.

EDIT found it - http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/139107-Signs-of-Life-Methane-Spikes-Detected-on-Mars-Intermittently-by-Curiosity

Thanks for spotting that! I hadn't noticed CJ'd already written an article about space farts, though his was based on a different discovery. I'll add a link to his article in mine.

fractal_butterfly:
Plot twist: the poor rock they crushed WAS the organism. They just didn't recognize it as one. ;-)

Ha! This was my first thought, too. Martian Meteorite, Much-Maligned, Makes a Message of Methane, Meets Mortality.

I'm getting tired of seeing all this "Might mean life" talk in the news.

Every month a picture come back that "This could mean life!!" but it never does.

"Look it that, it could be-- Oh, not it's not. Wait, look--! No... no, that's not life either. Oh my god, we may have found it this ti-- Damn! Hold on folks, we'll find it under one of these rocks."

Nurb:
I'm getting tired of seeing all this "Might mean life" talk in the news.

Every month a picture come back that "This could mean life!!" but it never does.

"Look it that, it could be-- Oh, not it's not. Wait, look--! No... no, that's not life either. Oh my god, we may have found it this ti-- Damn! Hold on folks, we'll find it under one of these rocks."

Well, this talk will eventually continue, until we find a full fledged martian guy, sincerely claiming he's is a real martian, and not some parallel universe liar or god-in-disguise deity. Or a wanderer from the future. Or even the three altogether.

BTW, aren't the insects from Starship Troopers some subterranean species?
It might be a bad idea to dig down too far under Mars' surface, then...

 

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