NASA’s Curiosity rover sent to Mars has detected huge amounts of methane gas on the surface of the Red Planet, suggesting the possibility of extraterrestrial life.
The discovery of the substance is a significant one, since it is known that on Earth methane is usually produced by living beings.
In this case, any methane particle was probably released relatively recently, because sunlight and chemical reactions would destroy molecules over several centuries.
Data collected by Curiosity reached Earth last week, and scientists involved in the” Martian mission ” were extremely excited about the information.
“Given this surprising result, we reorganized our weekend plans so we could conduct a follow-up experiment,” Ashwin Vasvada, the program’s coordinator, wrote in an email obtained by the New York Times.
Thus, researchers sent new commands to Curiosity last Friday so that the robot could thoroughly investigate the data.
Humans have long been fascinated by the possibility of life on Mars. In the 1970s, however, some of the first photographs captured a desolate landscape.
Two decades away, the researchers came to the conclusion that the Red Planet was most likely warmer, had more water, and therefore was more favorable for habitation about four billion years ago.
Now they are discussing the scenario that if there were ever traces of life on Mars, the original microbial organisms would have migrated below the planet’s surface and remained there.
On Earth, methanogenic bacteria find an early climate where oxygen is missing, such as under rocks at great depths or in the digestive tract of animals, they remove methane as a gaseous residue.
Another cause of gas generation, however, could also be geothermal reactions. Another scenario would also be related to a long existence of methane inside Mars, a gas that is released intermittently through the cracks in the crust.
NASA researchers officially announced the discovery last Saturday, but were booked, calling it ” an early outcome.””:
“To maintain scientific integrity, the project team will continue to analyze the data before confirming the results,” The Independent quoted a spokesman for the US Space Agency as saying.
Specialists first detected traces of methane on the Red Planet about 15 years ago, thanks to measurements made by Mars Express, an aircraft built by the European Space Agency, correlated with data collected by highly performing telescopes on Earth.
When Curiosity reached Mars in 2012, it looked for traces of methane gas, but found nothing, or at least the amount in the atmosphere was less than one part per billion.
Then, in 2013, the robot detected a sudden increase, up to 7 parts per billion, that lasted for several months. Last week, measurements found 21 parts of methane per billion in the atmosphere.
As a result, scientists have developed a technique by which the robot can detect very small quantities of the gas, and the statistics recorded showed that there were variations according to the four seasons on the Red Planet.