AFTER ALL, if whatever's on Mars had taken Beano before, there'd be no gas for researchers to find on the red (bean?) planet. The Associated Press has the straight poop:
A surprising and mysterious belch of methane gas on Mars hints at possible microbial life underground, but also could come from changes in rocks, a new NASA study found. The presence of methane on Mars could be significant because by far most of the gas on Earth is a byproduct of life — from animal digestion and decaying plants and animals.ON THE OTHER HAND, wouldn't it be a bummer if we sent a future Mars probe to the source of the methane emissions . . . only to find Joan Rivers?
Past studies indicated no regular methane on Mars. But new research using three ground-based telescopes confirmed that nearly 21,000 tons of methane were released during a few months of the late summer of 2003, according to a study published Thursday in the online edition of the journal Science.
"This raises the probability substantially that life was there or still survives at the present," study author Michael Mumma of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center told The Associated Press.
But Mumma also said claims of life need far more evidence and this isn't nearly enough. By 2006, most of the methane had disappeared from the Martian atmosphere, adding to the mystery of the gas, he said.
The Mars belch is similar to what comes out of the waters near Santa Barbara, Calif., which comes from decaying life in the sea floor. Microbes in the Arctic and other extreme Earth environments that don't use oxygen still release methane and they have been examples of the type of life astronomers look for on other planets.
Mumma and other scientists said NASA is likely to tinker with its long-held method of looking for life on Mars by seeking water and concentrating on signs of long-gone life. Instead NASA should think about methane hotspots as a "bull's-eye" for future missions and search for present-day life below the surface, said Indiana University geologist Lisa Pratt, who spoke during a NASA press conference. She was not involved in the research.
That's because methane is not only a waste product of life, it can be a food for other life, which makes these temporary methane hotspots good places to explore, Pratt said. She said it was "slightly more plausible" that the methane came from some form of life than geological changes.