Gas find is further sign of Martian life
ANOTHER indication of past life on Mars has been found with the detection of methane.
The gas was discovered by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) orbiting spacecraft, but its source has yet to be traced.
The development follows a series of water-related discoveries by both ESA and the United States space agency NASA, which has two rovers roaming the surface.
ESA scientists believe the methane could either be evidence of life or a sign of volcanic activity. It was detected using the planetary fourier spectrometer on board Mars Express.
Dr Vittorio Formisano, the instrument’s principal investigator, said the finding could either be evidence of life or of volcanic activity.
However, he said many more observations and studies were required to establish where it had come from.
Dr Formisano said: "Eventually, we shall perhaps be able to identify the source of methane. The source is going to be a rather big issue. It could be either simply volcanic activity, or life of biological origin. I am not stating that there is life now. There is no conclusion yet."
The scientist said methane could only exist for a few hundred years in the Martian atmosphere, which meant there could still be life or volcanic activity now on the Red Planet.
Dr Formisano said: "In my opinion, it is most likely of volcanic origin, but I need many more observations.
"For the moment, we can only say there is evidence of methane, and we have the possibility of accumulating more data and eventually finding the source."
Last week, NASA’s Opportunity rover found traces of a salty sea on the Martian surface, weeks after the agency said analysis of a rock outcrop provided proof of past water.
Last month, Mars Express spotted ice at the planet’s south pole, which ESA said confirmed for the first time what scientists have long believed but had not been able to measure directly.
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