A new finding by NASA’s Curiosity rover has strengthened the theory that some form of life existed on Mars billions of years ago. The rover has measured an astounding 10-fold spike in methane gas, an organic matter which could indicate the presence of life on the red planet. Since its landing in 2012, the rover has confirmed for the first time the definite finding of organic compounds in the surface materials of Mars. The probe found these compounds by studying rock samples from the Gale Crater.
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NASA scientist says Gale Crater could have supported life
NASA scientists published findings of the study in the journal Science. Findings suggest that Mars is an active planet that may once have an environment suitable for life. Danny Glavin of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center told ABC News that all the findings support the case that the Gale Crater could have supported life. Last week, the probe found signs of ancient water bodies such as lakes and rivers on the red planet.
NASA’s Mars explorer has analyzed methane levels a dozen times since its landing. It reported that the methane levels spiked from 0.7 parts per billion in Nov. 2013 to 7 parts per billion. And this level persisted for about 60 days, clearly suggesting that Mars is still active today. NASA has not confirmed the source of the methane, but there have been a few theories.
What causes the spike in methane gas?
The 10-fold spike in methane is important to NASA because the gas doesn’t exist for long. The space agency says that chemical reactions and sunlight in the Martian atmosphere would break it up in a few hundred years. So, the gas must have been created recently. It could have been produced by microbes called methanogens, which produce methane as a waste product.
Or it might have been formed during a geological process called serpentinization, which requires liquid water as well as heat. Even if it was formed by geological processes, scientists will have a clue where to look for signs of life. Other potential reasons for the spike in methane could be contact with comets and meteorites. Glavin said that Mars is not a dead planet.