Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Imperial College study boosts methane signal as evidence of life on Mars

Coming on the heels of announced results following thirteen years of study of "biomorph" sign in Martian meteorite ALH 84001, apparently ruling out any terrestrial origin for "fossilized" microorganisms discovered inside the rock in 1996, another announcement ftoday rom Imperial College London is likely to dovetail two stories into new headlines:

Scientists have ruled out the possibility that methane is delivered to Mars by meteorites, raising fresh hopes that the gas might be generated by life on the red planet, in research published Wednesday in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Methane has a short lifetime of just a few hundred years on Mars because it is constantly being depleted by a chemical reaction in the planet’s atmosphere, caused by sunlight. Scientists analyzing data from telescopic observations and unmanned space missions have discovered that methane on Mars is being constantly replenished by an unknown source and they are keen to uncover how the levels of methane are being topped up.

Researchers had thought that meteorites might be responsible for Martian methane levels because when the rocks enter the planet’s atmosphere they are subjected to intense heat, causing a chemical reaction that releases methane and other gases into the atmosphere.

However, the new study, by researchers from Imperial College London, shows that the volumes of methane that could be released by the meteorites entering Mars’s atmosphere are too low to maintain the current atmospheric levels of methane. Previous studies have also ruled out the possibility that the methane is delivered through volcanic activity.

Read the Imperial College release HERE.

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