Thursday, January 15, 2009
Life Hunters Target Methane Plumes on Mars
January 15, 2009 | 3:55:36 PM
By Alexis Madrigal
Methane, an organic molecule that on Earth is usually produced by life, has been found emanating from three specific regions on the surface of Mars.
The regions have suddenly become the most defined and accessible regions in the solar system to look for extraterrestrial life. While the observation is not definitive proof of life on Mars, it's the most promising sign yet.
It's still unclear whether the methane seeping out of the Martian ground is generated by geological or biological processes, but the discovery is surprising and important enough that it could reset NASA's Mars exploration strategy.
"It's prudent that we begin to explore Mars looking for the possibility of a life form that's exhaling methane," said Lisa Pratt, director of NASA's Astrobiology Team and a geoscientist at Indiana University who was not involved in the research.
Though we've been looking for life on Mars, it was no longer considered the best candidate for contemporary life in our solar system. Several scientific missions stretching from the Viking missions through the recently completed Mars Phoenix mission have found no evidence for life or liquid water on the surface of the red planet.
But the new spectroscopic observations of a seasonal methane release point to some active process on Mars — and it's as likely to be life as anything else. That's because most of the methane that we know here on Earth is produced by microbes as a waste product of, well, living.
More on this...It's a real gas...G: