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Mars Space

Methane On Mars May Indicate Living Planet 200

Posted by timothy
from the or-a-big-bean-dinner dept.
Riding with Robots writes "NASA is announcing today that the definitive detection of methane in the Martian atmosphere means the planet is still alive, at least geologically, and perhaps even biologically. 'Methane is quickly destroyed in the Martian atmosphere in a variety of ways, so our discovery of substantial plumes of methane in the northern hemisphere of Mars indicates some ongoing process is releasing the gas,' said one agency scientist. The gas was detected with observations made over over several Martian years with NASA telescopes at Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Both biological and geological processes could explain the methane."
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Methane On Mars May Indicate Living Planet

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  • SBD (Score:5, Funny)

    by Mud_Monster (715829) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @04:15PM (#26472381)
    Mars is farting, hehe.
  • ha (Score:5, Funny)

    by liquidpele (663430) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @04:15PM (#26472389) Journal
    Sounds like what we think is the Northern end is really the southern end.
  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @04:19PM (#26472479)

    Proof right here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Fartpants [wikipedia.org]

  • by NotBornYesterday (1093817) * on Thursday January 15, 2009 @04:22PM (#26472549) Journal
    They'll destroy their environment! If they don't slap some limits on those gas emissions, or come up with a workable credit-trading plan, they'll end up with a dry, dusty, desert planet in no time!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mhall119 (1035984)

      It's not worse than CO2, because it decays relatively quickly in the atmosphere. That's why this find is significant, it means the methane hasn't been in the atmosphere that long, which means there's still an active process on Mars that's putting it there.

      • by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday January 15, 2009 @04:37PM (#26472867)

        there's still an active process on Mars that's putting it there

        Oh, that's just James. He had beans for lunch again.

      • by MBGMorden (803437) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @04:57PM (#26473201)

        I think we need a qualifier for "relatively quickly" and "that long" when talking about geologic timescales. When dealing with this sort of thing "relatively quickly" could mean anything from a few months to several million years.

        • by mhall119 (1035984)

          And here I thought that "relatively" was a qualifier.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by dryeo (100693)

          Reading this article http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/090115-mars-methane-news.html [space.com] gives the impression that they're talking months. From the article.

          The methane plumes started to show up in the northern hemisphere spring of Mars, gradually building up and peaking in late summer. At one point during the study, the primary plume contained about 19,000 metric tons (21,000 tons) of methane, comparable to the amount produced at the massive hydrocarbon seep at Coal Pit Point in Santa Barbara, Calif.

          ...

          Sho

      • Well, it is and it isn't. It's WAY more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2 and, as it doesn't break down instantly, does have a notable effect on Earth. (The life expectancy is something like a decade here.) That said, it breaks down into CO2 here, so it largely just adds to the CO2 content.*

        That said, Mars has a different chemistry at play since there's virtually no oxygen in the atmosphere. What I want to know is, what's the life expectancy of methane there? The article says "short", but in planetar

      • by dryeo (100693)

        It could also be older methane that has been trapped under ice and being released during the summer thaw.

  • by chebucto (992517) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @04:24PM (#26472583) Homepage

    So the martians weren't knocking out our probes because they thought we were attacking - they were just embarrassed about the smell. And to be honest, this revelation does lower my opinion of martians. I think a few eons of evolution might help to teach them some manners.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 15, 2009 @04:26PM (#26472615)

    over 40 years ago Lovelock pointed out that you can tell there is life on earth because the atmosphere is HUGELY out of chemical equilibrium.
    And it is maintained that way due to life on earth.

    He also argued that by the same reasoning, there ain't life on Mars.

    I suspect this bit of disequilibrium is not enough
    to indicate life.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I suspect that we don't know enough about how planets with atmospheres but no life behave to be able to determine if there were a chemical equilibrium or not. I also suspect that the people at NASA and most credible scientists believe that the chance of other life in our solar system is very small, but should be investigated anyway.
      • I also suspect that the people at NASA and most credible scientists believe that the chance of other life in our solar system is very small, but should be investigated anyway.

        Or perhaps it is just that the people at NASA have figured out that holding up the _possibility_ of other life in our solar system is their surest bet for justifying their continued employment? It is obviously a geologic process, but planetary science is boring... "little green men", on the other hand, is a subject that really gets

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by wilder_card (774631)
          Hey, if it's "obviously" a geologic process, would you mind exactly WHAT process it is? Keep in mind that Mars has no current volcanic activity. And if there is/was no life, it's not a fossil fuel.
          • by Locke2005 (849178)
            My guess would be methane hydrate trapped beneath the surface being released due to rise in temperature or drop in pressure brought about by the martian summer. Even without tectonic plates, you've still got expansion and contraction due to temperature differences that may be cracking rocks and developing new fissures. Of course, that would be somewhat of a random occurrence; if the methane is released consistently from the same places every summer, that would tend to prove me wrong. But then, I'm a softwar
            • But then, I'm a software engineer, not a geologist.

              So maybe before posting on this subject you should, you know, learn some geology?

          • You're probably wasting your time. Posts like GPP's show a preconceived political agenda with no willingness to consider the actual facts.

        • It is obviously a geologic process

          Good thing we have folks like you around to figure this stuff out. Otherwise we might be duped into thinking that professional astronomers with degrees in the field and years of research experience under their belts might actually know something. Tell you what, you'd better send an e-mail to NASA right away informing them of your oh-so-informed conclusion. Let us know how that works out for you, okay?

  • "Methane is quickly destroyed in the Martian atmosphere in a variety of ways,

    Like...? /talk to me nerdy

  • Next we'll hear about extracting this for fuel to propel our next-generation inter-galactic probes.

    • Methan and ethane is everywhere in our solar system. You can send a rocket ship to Titan, refuel and come back. The only problem is finding oxygen. If there was any free oxygen, Titan, Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus would have been burning fiercely.
      • "...and Uranus would have been burning fiercely."

        The last time I ate Thai food this very thing happened to me!

      • by conureman (748753)

        I am not an engineer, I was just idly considering that Mars was an awful lot closer than the next stop out that way.

  • It's coming form the under ground city's there.

  • Meth on Mars may indicate Martians who need to go to rehab.
  • Next mission to Mars should focus on that and should take along a drilling platform. May as well answer the question.
  • Mass Spec (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jfp51 (64421)
    Has any probe carried a mass spectrometer? If not that should be a high priority to find out which isotopes are being produced as well, would help answer the organic vs. volcanic question.
    • Has any probe carried a mass spectrometer?

      Yes, the TEGA [arizona.edu] instrument on the Phoenix lander (the "oven" device that they were having problems getting dirt into shortly after landing) was a mass spectrometer as well as a scanning calorimeter. There were also mass spectrometers on board the VIKING landers in the 1970's, the ill fated Beagle.
    • Has any probe carried a mass spectrometer?

      Is that the kind of thing that stops working if you drop it from a plane?
      Because they have to do something very similar to dropping it from a plane in order to get it to mars, so if it can't be dropped from the sky without keeping on ticking, they probably won't bother lifting that all the way up the rocket.

  • by mbone (558574) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @04:34PM (#26472803)

    This was reported by Mars Express [esa.int] in 2004 [bbc.co.uk].

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 15, 2009 @04:44PM (#26472989)
      Yeah, but that's the ESA and the BBC. This time it's an AMERICAN agency reporting on it, so it's newsworthy goddammit!
    • by usul294 (1163169)
      There was a streaming video of a NASA panel talking to the media, and the thing here is that they have been able to see local concentrations. The ESA mission basically looked at the atmosphere on a full couple of orbits and integrated the results to be able to detect that somewhere there was methane. Now we have some concentrated areas, coincidentally where we think there might have been water...
    • by sighted (851500) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @05:48PM (#26474281) Homepage
      IANAS, but it appears that since these findings were obtained by a completely different process, they provide important confirmation of the Mars Express data--and extend that knowledge in an important way by adding location-specific information. From TFA: "According to the team, the plumes were seen over areas that show evidence of ancient ground ice or flowing water. For example, plumes appeared over northern hemisphere regions such as east of Arabia Terra, the Nili Fossae region, and the south-east quadrant of Syrtis Major, an ancient volcano 1,200 kilometers (about 745 miles) across."
      • by mbone (558574)

        IANAS, but it appears that since these findings were obtained by a completely different process, they provide important confirmation of the Mars Express data-

        Yes, more data is good, and seeing it from here is cool. I have no doubt whatsoever that the principal investigators understand all of this. The thing I don't like is how the actual details always seem to get ground up by the PR machinery and come out the other end as "discovers."

        I believe that I have seen 4 or 5 "X discovers water on Mars," press rele

        • by sighted (851500)
          Yeah, no arguments. I knew about the Mars Express discovery, and I wish I had included it in the summary. Finding those location-specific 'plumes' also seems pretty important, though.
  • Who's to rule that possibility out?

    On our own planet, even?

  • Both are good (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @04:59PM (#26473227) Journal
    If Mars is geologically active, then it may make geo-thermal power a very real possibility. At the same time, it gives heat for a station as well as greenhouse. If it is biological in nature, all the more interesting.
  • by slashdotmsiriv (922939) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @05:10PM (#26473443)

    "The gas was detected with observations made over several Martian years with NASA smeloscopes at Mauna Kea, Hawaii."

  • Mars Rovers? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheSync (5291) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @05:56PM (#26474455) Journal

    Are any of the Mars Rovers near the methane plume sites?

  • by flyingfsck (986395) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @06:32PM (#26475131)

    Our sun and solar system is a second generation system, made from the rubble of a previous star that went nova billions of years ago.

    Jupiter, and Uranus have red spots that indicate Methane in their lower atmosphere. Some moons of Saturn have lakes and rivers of methane (Titan and Europa). That indicates that methane is older than the solar system and was created in the previous solar system that this one is made from.

    Consequently, the presence of Methane doesn't say anything about the presence of life.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @06:45PM (#26475361) Journal
      Did you miss the bit about methane having a very limited persistence in the Martian atmosphere, because of the UV?
    • Consequently, the presence of Methane doesn't say anything about the presence of life.

      'Methane is quickly destroyed in the Martian atmosphere in a variety of ways, so our discovery of substantial plumes of methane in the northern hemisphere of Mars indicates some ongoing process is releasing the gas,'

      Some people can't read the articles, others don't even read past the title.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CheshireCatCO (185193)

      Er, no. Just... no. Why would a previous solar system be needed if we can't (by your implicitly logic) form it in ours?

      Methane can easily form in the protosolar nebula and because it was so cold far from the protosun, freeze into ices. The ices went on to compose much of the giant planets and their moons. Since carbon is a relatively abundant element in the universe (and hydrogen is obviously even more so), a lot of methane would have formed. All you need to put the two elements into proximity and wait

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      It's good that you know everything there is to know and can come and tell us about it.

  • Until we can determine whether or not there is life on Mars the LIFE project ( http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09%2F01%2F07%2F1447217&from=rss [slashdot.org] http://www.planetary.org/programs/projects/life/ [planetary.org] ) which has a high risk of contaminating Mars with Earth life needs to be stopped. The risk was large earlier but this clearly makes it unacceptable.
    • by khallow (566160)
      I doubt the risk is that high. The surface is pretty lethal to any organic life. There's UV, temperature extremes, and an oxidizing environment. I doubt even spores can last long. The organisms would have to get below the surface. That's several steps that spores and bacteria have to overcome to get somewhere they might be able to survive in. This experiment actually has relevance in that it'll give us an idea just how much risk there is from contamination.
  • Methane (Score:4, Funny)

    by mqduck (232646) <mqduck AT mqduck DOT net> on Thursday January 15, 2009 @09:36PM (#26477287)

    Wait, methane = life? So that's why aliens always begin with our anuses when studying us.

    • by PPH (736903)
      Strange. Since the odor from that source of methane seems to indicate that something crawled up there and died.
  • 1) Find physical phenomena.

    2) Claim publicly that it might indicate life or the conditions for life regardless of the actual data involved.

    3) Get funding.

    4) Repeat.

  • Stale, stale, stale. There is nothing new here. Except that the Princeps-Designate is opposed to human space exploration and NASA might be trying to drum up public interest.

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