News Stories

It's Official: Life Likely on Mars

Methane has been discovered on Mars, meaning life must bethere as well.Linda Howe wasone of the first journalists to report this news, on ourJune 12 Dreamland show. Now it's official: the Mars Express,the European Space Agency probe which is orbiting theplanet, has sensed the presence of methane. The amount isvery small (about 10 parts in a thousand million) but it'senough to reveal the presence of microbes there.

Leonard David writes in space.com that methane can onlysurvive on Mars for a few hundred years because it quicklyoxidizes into water and carbon dioxide. The methane could beproduced by volcanoes but no volcanic activity has beenspotted on Mars so far. This means that since methane hasbeen detected on the planet, some living thing must becontinually producing it. The oxidation of methane takesplace on Earth as well, but it's constantly being replacedby fermentation in peat bogs and rice fields and bycud-chewing animals.

Researcher Vittorio Formisano says, "The first thing tounderstand is how exactly the methane is distributed in theMartian atmosphere. Since the methane presence is so small,we need to take more measurements. Only then will we haveenough data to make a statistical analysis and understandwhether there are regions of the atmosphere where methane ismore concentrated." That's where we'll look for signs of life.

People used to think that life on Mars meant aliens wereliving there. Now we?re learning that the truth aboutextraterrestrials is much more subtle than that.

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