Feeds

Methane on Mars: aliens - or farts in a jacuzzi?

Little (smelly) green men?

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

New analyses of the Martian atmosphere hints at the possibility of life, deep below the planet's surface, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).

Scientists looking at the distribution of both water vapour and methane in the atmosphere found that concentrations of the two gases overlap, implying a common underground source. The data come from the Italian Space Agency's Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS).

This shows that the two gases are well-mixed in the upper atmosphere. Closer to the ground there are pockets of more concentrated water vapour, in three broad equatorial regions: Arabia Terra, Elysium Planum and Arcadia-Memnonia. These coincide with higher concentrations of methane gas, and are also the regions where NASA's Odyssey space craft detected a layer of water ice less than a metre below the surface.

If even microbial life exists on Mars, it would produce methane, and would need water to survive. So finding the two gases concentrated in the same regions is especially interesting, the scientists explain. But they are equally quick to emphasise that the findings can be explained without invoking little green men.

The methane could be formed by geothermal processes oxidising iron in basaltic rocks, for example. Another explanation could be that there are quantities of methyl hydrate (molecules of methane trapped in an ice lattice) below the Martian ice layer.

Dr Michael Mumma, an atmospheric scientist at the US space agency's Goddard Space Flight Center, told the BBC: "If you happened to warm that beyond the liquidation temperature then you would free both methane and water together."

The ESA says that more observations are needed before anyone can draw any firm conclusions about the cause of the phenomenon. Further studies will "address whether these gases can be linked to water and methane and help answer the unresolved questions. In-situ observations by future lander missions to Mars may provide a more exhaustive solution to the puzzle." ®

Related stories

SETI has not found ET: official
Earth to disappear from alien radar
Area 51 hackers dig up trouble

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.