New research gives hope for life on Mars as scientists have found methane hidden in Martian meteorites. Methane is a gas that planetary scientists have long linked to life on Earth, suggesting that there is a chance that life could also exist on the red planet.
The Canadian and Scottish scientists working on the project gave a statement explaining the importance of the discovery: “The availability of methane and hydrogen is critical to the potential of the Martian crust as a habitat for microbial life. The hostile Martian surface is probably less habitable than the subsurface, and several scenarios have been proposed for deep Martian life”.
The paper, published in the journal Nature Communications, reveals that even though Mars could prove to be life friendly, methane is still extremely difficult to find. NASA’s Curiosity rover only found traces of the gas after entire months of searching and coming up empty.
The scientists were amazed by the unexpected discovery and are highly excited about what this could mean for the biological potential of the planet as life on Mars has been a long debated subject by scientists and filmmakers alike. The presence of methane in the Martian atmosphere has greatly affected how scientists are exploring the ever fascinating red planet, what they’re looking for and what they’re expecting to find.
While NASA’s Curiosity rover has not yet measured the Martian atmosphere, scientists inform that methane can be found beneath the Earth’s surface, in the subsurface, and they strongly believe that the same goes for the red planet.
Another argument that the team has made is that Mars has a thin atmosphere which lets a lot of ultraviolet radiation pass through. This is something that destroys methane directly, as well as indirectly due to the reactions it has with various chemicals, which means that methane can’t last long above ground.
For the study, the researchers looked at six (6) Martian meteorites that have crashed on Earth. Matthew Izawa, co-author and researcher at Western University’s department of Earth Sciences, informs that the meteorites are small volcanic rocks that formed close to the surface of Mars, roughly one billion or 1.5 billion years ago.
The international team of researchers crushed pieces of the meteorites inside a chamber with no air in order to release the gases that were trapped inside. They found that the rocks were hiding methane, hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and even small traces of oxygen and argon. The ones that were found in the largest quantities were methane and hydrogen.
This in turn caused them to conduct further tests and learn that the rocks had been exposed to water while they were still on Mars. Izawa and his colleagues share that the rocks were primarily made of two (2) minerals – olivine and pyroxene. These minerals are believed to have reacted with water in order to release hydrogen gas.
The working theory is that the hydrogen would then have a chemical reaction with the carbon dioxide found in the surrounding environment, which would result in methane. The theory has a strong basis as the phenomenon has been observed on planet Earth. One such example is a sea floor locally known as Lost City.
Izawa stresses that studies conducted on Earth rocks have shown that there is life deep into the crust and that they feed on such reactions.