NASA’s Curiosity rover has detected the intermittent presence of methane gas (CH4) on Mars, and while the gas has been of low-level amounts as they emanate from the ground, it has set scientists thinking on how methane became available on Mars in the first place.
About 95% of methane gas on Earth is produced from microbial organisms, and while traces of these may have been present on Mars, it might also signify the possible presence of some form of life. The team manning the operations of Curiosity finds it a little difficult to identify the exact presence of the available methane, but their best guess is that the gas must have been emanating from potential stores in the ground.
According to Sushil Atreya, a University of Michigan professor, “These are molecular cages of water-ice in which methane gas is trapped. From time to time, these could be destabilized, perhaps by some mechanical or thermal stress, and the methane gas would be released to find its way up through cracks or fissures in the rock to enter the atmosphere.”
If this is the case, then researchers are confronted with the question of how methane got into Mars in the first place, at least into the clathrate stores below the soil. The possibilities scientists are considering on how this might have occurred are that methane could have gotten into Mars through Martian bugs, and serpentinization, which is a natural process whereby methane results from the interaction of water with certain rock types.
If life had originated twice, independently, within our solar system, we’d have to conclude that it can’t be a rare fluke…
I have not been able to work out why life on Mars would be important to me personally, other than as another is a long string of curious ‘facts’ about the universe in which we live.