Methane discovery could mean life on the Red Planet

NASA scientists have found new evidence of methane gas and water vapor on Mars’ atmosphere—the strongest indication so far that life might exist, or once existed on the planet.

methane discovery on mars

Martian methane was detected in 2003 using ground-based telescopes, but some scientists said it could have been dumped on the planet by comets. The latest discovery is an indication that it is actually produced on the Red Planet.

Methane is typically a byproduct of microbial organisms on Earth. The presence of this gas on Mars implies active geological, or possibly even biological, processes on the planet.

Prof. Michael Mumma said Thursday the discovery of the gas meant there was a ‘substantial probability that life was there or still survives’ on Earth’s neighbor.

“It might be possible for similar organisms to survive for billions of years below the permafrost layer on Mars, where water is liquid, radiation supplies energy, and carbon dioxide provides carbon,” NASA’s lead scientist Mr. Mumma said.

NASA is due to send a large, nuclear-powered rover to Mars in 2012 to assess whether the planet has ever been — or still is — able to sustain life.