Methane discovery suggests presence of life on Mars, say Nasa scientists
Added: Thu, 15 Jan 2009 00:00:00 UTC
Thanks to SPS for the link.
- Microbes may be living below soil of Mars
- Haze of methane may provide proof
- Scientists have "only scratched the surface"
NASA scientists are expected to announce they may have proof there is life on Mars.
The scientists suspect alien microbes are alive and kicking just below the soil of the big planet, after large quantities of what is believed to be the organismsâ waste products were detected.
The organisms – called methanogens – are suspected to have been living in water beneath underground ice, where they are disgorging tonnes and tonnes of methane.
On Earth, methane is produced in massive quantities by animals such as cows, sheep and goats.
Giant telescopes from Earth and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have spotted a haze of the gas surrounding Mars, and according to some scientists this can only point to the presence of life on Mars.
âMethane is a product of biology,â UK Mars expert Professor Colin Pillinger told UK tabloid The Sun last night.
âFor methane to be in Marsâ atmosphere, there has to be a replenishable source.
âThe most obvious source of methane is organisms, so if you find methane in an atmosphere, you can suspect there is life.
âItâs not proof, but it makes it worth a much closer look.â
âWhat could be more profound than to know itâs not just us out there?
"Weâve really only scratched the surface — itâs an absolute certainty that there is life out there and we are not alone.
âIf there is life on Mars then the logical conclusion is that there must be life elsewhere too."
Although there is a consensus among some scientists that methane is also produced by volcanic processes, the lack of any active volcanoes on Mars rules this possibility out.
Methane plumes are very short-lived, it is chemically broken down by sunlight within a year. Something is replacing the methane, and quickly.
The fascination with the idea that Mars harbours life has pervaded popular culture for over a century.
The public obsession with Martians began way back in 1877 when astronomer Giovanni Sciaparelli reported observations of large canali – meaning "channels" – on Mars, which he speculated must have been dug by an intelligent race, although this proved mistaken.
H.G. Wells classic 1898 novel of a Martian invasion of Earth War of the Worlds has been turned into two big budget Hollywood films and when staged as 1938 radio play by Orson Wells caused reportedly caused panic when some of the audience mistook it for a real newscast.
Director Tim Burton reimagined the scenario with playfully malignant extraterrestrials in his blackly comic 1996 film Mars Attacks.
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