On Earth, methane is mostly produced by biological activity, ranging from cow farts to decomposing plants.
- There Is Definitely Methane on Mars, Scientists Say. But Is It a Sign of Life?!
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But it is also produced by geological processes, such as the interaction of water with a mineral called olivine in a process called serpentisation because it produces the green-coloured rock known as serpentine. Then, in , Webster reported that six Earth years of measurements three Mars years by the Curiosity rover had found atmospheric levels of methane that peaked in the summer and dropped in autumn and winter — that might or might not suggest the presence of methane-producing microorganisms that wake up in warm weather, then go back into hibernation for the winter.
We also know that the surface of Mars is extremely inhospitable, thanks to an atmosphere that is too thin to block out harsh radiation and high levels of oxidising chemicals such as perchlorates. Recommended Scientists posit microbes on Enceladus and Mars Space. But the results of that will be mostly of interest to deep-interior geophysicists. Currently, oxygen is only 0.
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- Extraterrestrial life - Wikipedia.
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Not that oxygen is the only thing these organisms would need. But the idea that there could be enough oxygen down there, today, to support a relatively complex ecosystem is nevertheless exciting.
There is abundant geologic evidence that Mars was once warm enough to have liquid water. But did this occur over a long period of time, or in intermittent epochs? That sounds like evidence for an initially thick atmosphere that might have taken a while to erode by enough to put the planet into the deep freeze.
You might be constantly replenishing your wallet from the ATM, with only a few dollars at any time. It was chosen because it once hosted a lake, with a river draining in from the surrounding highlands to produce a large delta. Martin van Kranendonk, director of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at the University of New South Wales, suggests that it is also possible to look for life signs at the types of places where life might have originated.
Scientists once believed that these places would have been undersea hydrothermal vents, where important chemicals are expelled up from deep in the crust. Hot springs pools, on the other hand, present no such problems. They also experience fluctuating water levels that produce altering wet and dry cycles — just the thing, laboratory experiments have shown, needed to cause small molecules to link into ever-larger chains.
Even on Earth, traces of ancient life are rare and scattered. If we someday find such traces, one of the mantras of science is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
No ifs, buts, or maybes. Evidence of life on Mars will need absolute proof.
Is there life on Mars?
This article appears in Issue 82 of Cosmos magazine. To subscribe, and have the latest science delivered direct to your door or inbox, click here. Digital Issues Buy a back issue. Renew my subscription Give a Gift Manage my subscription.
Could There Be Life on Mars Today? | Space
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Robin George Andrews is a doctor of experimental volcanology-turned-science journalist. He tends to write about the most extravagant of scientific tales, from eruptions Share to facebook Share to twitter Share to linkedin. Robin Andrews Contributor. Read More.