Science/Tech

Mars Alien Life Proof? Scientists Find Possible Sign Of Living Things

It appears that we now have proof that there’s methane on Mars. The presence of this colorless, odorless gas is now causing many space enthusiasts to wonder if there really is life outside of Earth. However, scientists are still not sure if living things or just plain geologic processes produce methane on the Red Planet.

In a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Geoscience on April 1 (No! This isn’t an April Fool’s joke), researchers reveal the confirmation they have on the presence of methane on Mars. Using data obtained from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft, the team, led by Marco Giuranna from the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica in Rome, found that there was indeed methane above the Gale Crater, the area the orbiter was exploring on June 16, 2013.

This confirms what NASA’s Curiosity rover detected in the same location a day prior Mars Express’ discovery. In the run-up to the shocking finding Curiosity made, the European agency’s spacecraft hardly observed presence of methane above Gale Crater. But when it made its way to where Curiosity’s discovery of a methane spike was, Mars Express also noticed the presence of the chemical compound.

The researchers used the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer to examine the area above Gale Crater in the middle of June 2013. The instrument enabled them to confirm that there is indeed methane on the Martian surface. Unfortunately, the methane gas above the Gale Crater only wafts into the atmosphere periodically. So it would still take time before scientists could identify its source.

There are two possibilities that Astronomy magazine is considering at this point. Either the methane gas on Mars is coming from living things, or it’s just being produced as part of geologic processes that are happening on Earth’s neighboring planet. The former, of course, is more interesting than the latter as it would entail presence of life beyond Earth.

In our planet, methane is mostly produced by living creatures, from microbes to humans. However, geologic processes are also capable of producing the simplest alkane. Just the combination of sunlight and heat on certain types of rocks already lead to the formation of methane gas. Even though the study does not identify the origin of methane gas that Curiosity and Mars Express detected on the Red Planet, it could still pave the way for this to happen because astronomers now know where to look.

In addition to methane, another sign that Mars could be capable of supporting life is the possible presence of an active deep groundwater on the Red Planet. A different study by researchers at the USC Arid Climate and Water Research Center (AWARE) suggested that there used to be an active water system, as deep as 750 meters, that let water flow through cracks in specific craters on Mars.

They came up with this conclusion after studying the characteristics of “recurrent slope lineae” or the seasonal dark streaks in Martian craters that were previously thought to have only been formed by repeated avalanches of dust and sand. The team said that the fractures within the craters suggested that water springs may have leaked on the surface and formed the linear features.

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