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Mars Space Science

Martian Methane May Be Created By Lifeforms 297

Posted by kdawson
from the little-green-bugs dept.
Following our recent discussions about the growing evidence pointing to possible life on Mars, reader skywatcher2501 writes with news of a study that has ruled out one possible explanation for the levels of methane seen on that planet — that it might be replenished by disintegrating meteors entering the atmosphere. So two theories remain: either the gas is created as a by-product of reactions between volcanic rock and water, or it is a by-product of a lifeform's metabolism.
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Martian Methane May Be Created By Lifeforms

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  • I do hope... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dartz-IRL (1640117) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @04:55PM (#30370148)

    That it is life. I've said it before so I won't reiterate with a long post, but if there's life on Mars, that proves life isn't just unique to Earth. This planet isn't a fluke. If there's life on Mars, then it can be *anywhere*

    What an amazing thing that would be.

    Almost as good as the BBC TV series...

  • option C (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kingmundi (54911) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @05:01PM (#30370224)

    "So two theories remain: either the gas is created as a by-product of reactions between volcanic rock and water, or it is a by-product of a lifeform's metabolism."

    Or C: There is some, as of yet, unidentified method of methane production.

  • by abbynormal brain (1637419) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @05:03PM (#30370240)

    ... get ready to hear this word a lot: "cross contamination" from the bombardment period.

    I know - I know. I'm not advocating it - I'm just saying: Don't be surprised.

  • Re:crap (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oldspewey (1303305) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @05:06PM (#30370292)

    Well from a purely scientific standpoint I'd say there's merit in preserving and studying life forms that have evolved in complete isolation from anything on Earth.

    Wouldn't you?

  • Or did they? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scorp1us (235526) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @05:12PM (#30370402) Journal

    I saw recently that NASA was leaning towards judging structures on a few meteorites as organic in nature. Meaning, we could have been derived from, or seeded life on Mars. Multiple times.

  • by oldspewey (1303305) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @05:31PM (#30370604)
    I wonder if the pattern to the press releases has anything to do with the pace at which scientific research takes place?
  • Re:Is it possible? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Orleron (835910) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @05:36PM (#30370676) Homepage
    "Decay" implies the breakdown of biological tissue by... you guessed it, micro-organisms. In places where there is not much bacteria, like the antarctic, things that die do not decay noticeably over hundreds of years or more.
    So, I doubt decay from dead things is producing the methane.
  • by Cyberax (705495) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @05:42PM (#30370752)

    Possible, but unlikely. Mars tectonics had stopped a loooong time ago.

    And without plate tectonics it's pretty hard to imagine how geologic traps for organic material could have formed.

  • Re:crap (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @06:01PM (#30371030) Journal

    I would think before we start transporting over all our microbes, we might actually want to make a reasonable attempt at determining whether Mars has some of its own. Certainly in the interests of biology and xenobiology this would be a critical bit of knowledge. We ain't always gonna be stuck just in this solar system, and if there are a few spots in our neighborhood that harbor life, to assure that we gain as much knowledge as possible about alien biology and ecology, it's in our best interests to not piss in another swimming pool quite yet.

    Besides, WTF do you think is going to happen? Shell is going to start drilling for oil? Strip mining? Mars is still a very gravity well, and that means it's costly to get off the surface. If you're looking for cheap hydrocarbons, comets, or possibly some place like Titan, would make much more sense. If you're looking for metals, well, the Asteroid Belt is going to be far easier to access and pull resources from.

    In short, other than perhaps long-term terraforming projects (which we're probably a few centuries away from having meaningful technical and engineering know-how to do) Mars will likely remain for the foreseeable future more of a scientific quest than a no holds barred push for cheap resources. I mean, even if we did have cheap ways to achieve escape velocity on planets like Mars and Earth, it would probably take a few decades to do proper geological surveys. Plenty of time for science before we chew up the surface.

  • Re:Is it possible? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by H0p313ss (811249) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @06:11PM (#30371162)

    Life on Mars would have been at its prime billions of years ago. Whatever is left now would have to be either fossilised and completely inert, or still reproducing.

    Or migrated?

  • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @06:14PM (#30371188) Homepage Journal

    And ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the argumentum ad hominem.

    Let us take a moment to ponder this posters ability to take a tone of superiority, all the while unawares of the stupendous amount of ignorance being displayed by his own statement.

    Truly a remarkable creature.

  • Re:Life on Mars (Score:5, Insightful)

    by realityimpaired (1668397) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @06:15PM (#30371210)

    Mars has about 1/2 the radius of the Earth and about 1/10th the mass, which means a significantly smaller gravitational field, even at the surface (about 1/3 the gravity at the surface, and remember that it falls off proportionately to the square of the distance from the center of mass).

    While Mars doesn't have a magnetic field any more, I suspect that the reason that Mars's atmosphere is so much thinner than our own has more to do with the lack of mass and corresponding gravity well to hold the gases in than it does the solar wind blowing it away. Recall that Mercury has a magnetic field, and it doesn't really help the planet hold its atmosphere. And lest you think that's because it's so close to the Sun, and thus the subject of stronger solar winds, I'll point out that Ganymede also has a permanent magnetic field and a very thin atmosphere, but its surface pressure is so low that if it were created in a bell jar here on Earth, it would be considered a vacuum.

  • Re:Life on Mars (Score:3, Insightful)

    by meerling (1487879) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @06:20PM (#30371278)
    Some of the recent studies show that it's incomplete magnetic field is actually accelerating the loss of atmosphere.
    Apparently those magnetic domes that were once thought to help retain atmosphere are now acting like ski ramps to help the solar winds blow off more air than if Mars had no magnetic field whatsoever. That's really gotta suck.

    Of course, that doesn't preclude the existence of some form of extremophile.
    After all, it's had millions of years to adapt to the changing environment that is Mars.
    On the other hand, that doesn't mean there is any life on Mars, just that we can't rule it out at this time.

    So anyhow, do you know where I can get some more nurplex? This one lost it's flavor years ago... :-)
  • Re:option C (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kingmundi (54911) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @06:29PM (#30371386)

    I probably should have put...
    there are probably other theories out there besides those two. And its always important to keep an open mind to other possibilities.

    Personally, I tend to favour the water interacting with olivine (serpentization). The two main plumes of methane occur at points in Mars where there are cracks to the interior, and/or have a lot of exposed olivine. Of course, I am not a scientist, so I don't even give my own opinion much weight on the matter. Its possible that the presence of olivine and water is the ingredients that life needs to hang on in the harsh martian environment. It is interesting either way.

    One plume is at Elysium Planitia [wikipedia.org]
    One plume is at Memnonia [wikipedia.org]
    A similar (vaguely) plume on earth is at Petroleum Seep [wikipedia.org]

  • by causality (777677) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @06:36PM (#30371454)

    I'm not sure which country that you live in, but where I live, the press and the scientists aren't controlled by the government.

    The press is a much more complex subject. So I'll talk just about the scientists. Many of them are doing "pure research" of the sort that is unlikely to produce a profit in the near future, if ever. This covers the LHC and all sorts of other things. Because their work isn't expected to be profitable, those scientists are not financially self-sufficient. Most (nearly all?) of them receive government grants in order to fund their work. Who receives those grants and what kind of work gets funded depends ultimately on the politics of the time and the mainstream scientific theories of the time. So, you can only deny the control that government has over scientific research if you discount the power of the purse, and I submit that doing so would be a mistake.

    I'll give a recent example. In 2001, George W. Bush used his political influence as President to decide that the government will not fund research on stem cells if those stem cells are derived from frozen embryos. This was pure politics and occurred not because of scientific objections, but because people with pro-life views had moral objections to this method of research. There were already existing stem cell lines that had already been harvested; regarding these from the point of view of pro-lifers the damage had already been done, therefore Bush did allow scientists to work on these existing stem cells. Whether you agree with that decision or not, it amounts to the political micromanagement of scientific research enforced by the power of the purse. So yes, the government has a great deal of control and they can exercise that in a purely budgetary fashion without passing a single new law.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @10:33PM (#30373506)

    The climatologists weren't quacks. As respected a source as the journal Nature made that clear [nature.com]. They were called quacks by people like Limbaugh, who make their millions by stirring shit without any interest in the consequences, as long as they get high ratings, and by the mainstream press, who are too stupid to understand the science and were therefore influenced by the asshole pundits like Limbaugh who were the first to speak on the matter.

    So the question now is: Are you an idiot who believes anything the scientifically illiterate press tells you, or are you an idiot who believes anything politically-motivated pundits tell you?

For God's sake, stop researching for a while and begin to think!

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