Friday, July 22, 2011

The Discovery of Methane Gas

 Mars Pics courtesy of NASA
Is there life on Mars? As mentioned in a previous post, the NASA mission "Curiosity" is going to explore this possibility with its scheduled launch in November.  Two rovers were sent to Mars several years ago and uncovered more questions back here on Earth for scientists.  Methane explosions were detected on the surface of Mars in certain areas.  Methane, here on Earth, is a gas given off by lifeforms and where there is methane, it is thought that there may be life.  Some exciting discoveries have happened both on the Moon, Mars, and with Saturn's moons(ie. Enceladus and Titan).  Frozen water seems to be locked up under ground in the cryosphere of Mars.  Water in the right setting can be home to life and it's extremely likely that life can and does exist just beneath the surface of Mars.
Artist depiction of Curiosity
"Mars Science Laboratory is an unmanned robotic rover designed to land on Mars and assess whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment able to support microbial life -- to determine the planet's habitability. The rover, named Curiosity, is about the size of a small sport-utility vehicle. It will carry an advanced suite of instruments to study Martian terrain and soil."  Source: NASA
Areas with high concentrations of methane gas
In my humble opinion, we are going to find out things that will rock the science world if this mission succeeds.  While the potential for life exists on other worlds and moons, it will probably look a lot different than the aliens we see on TV:) But imagine.....could there be life?
Potential landing site for Curiosity
Here's an article from NASA from January of 2009. "The U.S. space agency, NASA, says large quantities of methane gas have been detected on Mars, hinting at the possibility of biological or geological activity on the Red Planet.  A team of scientists with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, announced Thursday that the presence of methane gas on Mars is a major discovery.Astrobiologist Sushil Atreya says there are two possibilities as to why methane exists on Mars. "Either it's geology, in which case it's the reaction between water and rock, or it's biology, in which case the microbes are producing the methane," Atreya said. Methane was first detected on Mars in 2003 by scientists using Earth-based telescopes. Scientists say that one plume of Martian methane contained nearly 19,000 tons of the gas. NASA's Michael Mumma says methane is quickly destroyed in the Martian atmosphere, so the detection of plumes of methane is significant.  "Mars is active. Now whether or not its because of geology, or biology, or both, we don't know," he said. Scientists say they have detected seasonal variations of methane emissions over the planet's northern hemisphere. Physicist Geronimo Villanueva of Catholic University here in Washington says the gas plumes were emitted during the northern Martian spring and summer. "One of the most important, striking, things about the discovery is that the regions where we see methane are regions that have a lot of rich history," Villanueva said. "For example, these regions show evidence that waters once flowed over them, and this is very important because if the water is still available below the surface, some activity - geology, biology - could be using them." Scientists have debated whether reports of methane deposits on Mars were real. But now, Geologist Lisa Pratt says scientists have the evidence needed to consider the possibility of life on the Red Planet.  "It's time, it's prudent that we begin to explore Mars, looking for the possibility of a life form that's exhaling methane," she said.  But Pratt says that at most, that life form could be a very thin, nearly invisible film of microbes deep underground. Scientists say NASA's launch of the Mars Science Laboratory in 2011 could provide more detailed analysis on the presence of methane on the planet." End of article.  Source:
The unique landing for the rover....suspension!

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