One of the most convincing indications of life on Mars isthe presence of methane gas. But a new NASA report says thatMars has an abundance of the mineral olivine, whichdissolves easily in water, releasing methane gas, meaningit’s unlikely that life now exists on theplanet, and may never have existed.

Maggie McKee reports in New Scientist that the olivineformed about 3 billion years ago, out of lava from volcaniceruptions. For olivine to form, there had to be largeamounts of water on Mars at that time. Water reacts witholivine to produce hydrogen gas, which then combines withcarbon dioxide to produce methane. The gas leaks tothe surface of Mars through fissures in the rock.

However, the presence of olivine does not mean that lifecould never have existed on the planet, only that the tracesof methane found there now probably are not the result ofemissions from living organisms. When Mars had a substantialamount of liquid water on its surface, as it did from one totwo billion years ago, it is possible that life developed atthat time.

Given that living organisms have been found on earth in suchunlikely places as beneath the Antarctic ice pack and inextremely hot water around undersea lava vents, it remainsto be proved that organisms could never have existedon Mars, and that they do not exist there now.

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