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Space Science

Methane on Mars? 327

mbone writes "Two independent groups are claiming the detection of methane in the Martian atmosphere, one using the Mars Express orbiter, and the other using ground based telescopes. This detection, if confirmed, would be of great significance for the search of life on Mars, as Methane will not last long in the Martian atmosphere and thus must be renewed, presumably either by biological processes or by volcanic vents, which would be a good place for life to develop. The leader of the ground based astronomy team, Michael Mumma of the Goddard Space Flight Center, when asked if the methane was biological in origin, said 'I think it is, myself personally.'"
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Methane on Mars?

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  • by andyrut ( 300890 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @01:51PM (#8696651) Homepage Journal
    ...it will be indisputable evidence of living, farting Martian beings!

    Actually, a couple [heptune.com] of sources [thefart.com] indicate that humans emit little or no methane when they pass gas.
  • "I think it is, myself personally"

    It's GOLD Jerry, GOLD!
  • Uh-oh! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LordK3nn3th ( 715352 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @01:55PM (#8696675)
    This Crazy Wacko [enterprisemission.com], Hoagland, is going to have a field day on this. He believes in all sorts of NASA coverups and apparently has a small following. He was mentioned recently on slashdot, as well, as the famous "Bad Astronomer" debunked some of his BS...
  • by IamGarageGuy 2 ( 687655 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @01:57PM (#8696685) Journal
    Is it possible that this is a contamination issue from the original setup on earth? Could this have travelled with the spaceship to mars? I have heard rumours of NASA employees that have resorted to eating only brown beans due to budget restrictions. Is this a science issue or a budgetary issue?
  • by WolfWithoutAClause ( 162946 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @01:57PM (#8696690) Homepage
    The leader of the ground based astronomy team, Michael Mumma of the Goddard Space Flight Center, when asked if the methane was biological in origin, said 'I think it is, myself personally.'"

    Well, atleast he's not denying it. How did Michael get to Mars? Gee, he must have a heck of an intestinal disorder for it to be detectable with a telescope!

  • Woo Hoo (Score:5, Funny)

    by Timesprout ( 579035 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @01:57PM (#8696691)
    My theory of Martian Cows works!!!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:00PM (#8696704)
    Hi. I'm Troy McClure. You might remember me from such Martian flatulence films as "The Baked Bean Crater" and "Angry Red Anus".
  • Any one got a light... ?
    • Humor aside, I doubt that there is enough gaseous oxygen for combustion. The three major components are CO2, 95%; N2, 4%; H2O, 0.02%. Oxygen is mainly locked up in oxidized minerals. Supposedly.
  • by Saeed al-Sahaf ( 665390 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:03PM (#8696722) Homepage
    Ahhh, methane. Proof of the existence of chili and beer on Mars. I'm on my way...
  • Well, what about... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Professor Cool Linux ( 759581 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:03PM (#8696728) Homepage
    Who's to say we haven't taken any bacteria to mars the past few Yrs.?????
    • by Hakubi_Washu ( 594267 ) <robert.kosten@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:12PM (#8696783)
      Assuming we didn't take them there deliberately, one has to assume there can't be many. Those few might resist the unsupportive environment, though it is unlikely for them to prosper (Given that earth microbes are quite resistant, but would need serious adaption/evolution to accomplish more than simple survival). So, IF we have taken microbes there and some of them even survived, how likely is it that they already have a measureable impact on a planetary scale atmosphere? I personally tend to think it is most likely to find either active volcanism on mars or some sort of algae...
      • Two Words (Score:2, Informative)

        by CGP314 ( 672613 )
        Exponential growth.


        -Colin [colingregorypalmer.net]
        • Re:Two Words (Score:5, Informative)

          by Derek Pomery ( 2028 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:29PM (#8697241)
          Exponential growth is a best-case situation. In a harsh environment, bacteria replicate very slowly.
          It isn't the same, but studies of bacteria living far underground offer a good example. They are starved, tiny. Often less than a thousandth the size of a normal bacteria. Their metabolism is so slow that according to Sci Am they may have an average frequency of cell division of once a *century* or even less.
          Mars is even less hospitable. Far colder, far less water, and hardly more nutrients.

          It seems to me that if you're going to believe we managed that with the probes it also seems just as likely one could argue for earth bacteria having made it there long ago on meteors.
          • exponential growth (Score:4, Insightful)

            by hak1du ( 761835 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:07PM (#8698423) Journal
            Exponential growth is a best-case situation. In a harsh environment, bacteria replicate very slowly.

            Whether they divide once every century or once ever 20 minutes, their growth is still exponential. Biological systems only stop growing exponentially once there is serious competition for resources or space.
    • Even at 10 parts per billion, that's a lot of Methane to have been made by a handful of escaped earthly bacteria. In the extreme conditions of Mars, even if some hardy Earth extremophile bacteria had made it there, it would take an immense amount of time for them to multiply enough to make that much Methane.

      I don't think that's in the realms of possibility.
  • Wooooooooo
  • Existence (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Justifiable_Delusion ( 759339 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:04PM (#8696732) Homepage
    It is slowly coming closer. The day we actually find that source of life on another planet. It is beautiful and logical and perfectlly of sense to understand and grasp that we will some day find life, but the day we actually do discover it. That will be an amazing day simply for the achievement. Though anything we find on mars will be very simple (single celled things? bactiera? virii?) it will nonetheless be something.

    It is life.
    • Re:Existence (Score:5, Insightful)

      by IamGarageGuy 2 ( 687655 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:08PM (#8696764) Journal
      Don't get too excited just yet. Wouldn't want all the UFO nuts to get all jumpy from the discovery of methane. We still know very little about how or why it is there. This is fascinating stuff but the whole reason is not to just find life on another planet. There are tons of things to explore on mars and I think that if we get into this loop of only looking for life we may miss some other things that will be discovered.
    • Re:Existence (Score:5, Insightful)

      by BiggerIsBetter ( 682164 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:12PM (#8696786)
      I'm getting the impression we're being slowly eased into the concept of life on Mars. I mean, how long did it take for them to even confirm it was once wet? And although we've sent several probes to Mars, we're detecting methane by telescope from Earth? Maybe my tinfoil fat needs adjusting, but something is wrong with this picture...
      • Re:Existence (Score:5, Interesting)

        by WhiteBandit ( 185659 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:27PM (#8697228) Homepage
        I mean, how long did it take for them to even confirm it was once wet?

        I don't think that ultimately mattered. People have been obsessed with life on Mars since it was first discovered and the possibility of canals that were built by other beings.

        The thought that water once flowed on the planet wasn't really that much of a profound/thought provoking concept in the scheme of things. There is some fairly obvious evidence [esa.int] that has hinted at the possibility of water. (I know, that image is from Mars Express, but we've known about major valleys and canyons since at least the time of the Viking Landers).

        Regarding whether we are being eased into the possibility of life being on other planets. There is a greater chance of that than trying to prepare of for the possibility of water existing on another body.

        However, I think the confirmation of life would be such huge and amazing news, I doubt word of it could be covered up for very long before it got out.
      • Public interest in Mars == greater support for NASA funding. The public doesn't care about rocks, they want to hear about life. So, to keep the public interested, NASA is now couching everything in terms of discovering life. You're not being 'eased into acceptance' of the idea of life there due to some slowly uncovering conspiracy, but rather because it's in their best interest for you to be excited about the idea of life there. It's PR spin, pure and simple.

    • Re:Existence (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sbaker ( 47485 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:28PM (#8697237) Homepage
      When (and I think it's a matter of 'when' - not 'if') we find simple life on Mars, the implications of it depend critically on which of four likely possibilities it is:

      1) Life originated only on Earth and travelled to Mars in an ejected rock. This would be just *boring*.

      2) Life originated on Mars and travelled to Earth in an ejected rock like the famous Mars meteorite. We are all Martians? Well, there's an interesting thought.

      3) Life originated somewhere else and travelled to both Mars and Earth by one of these mechanisms. Panspermia. Life would be very likely to exist throughout the galaxy in every niche you could imagine.

      4) Life originated quite differently and separately on Earth and Mars. Woahh! Now *that* is a deep thought.

      It seems likely to me that Scientists (being careful people) will start off with assumption (1). It would be hard to tell the difference between (1)/(2) and (3) without going off to mine some comets that have never been close enough to Earth or Mars to pick up a stray life-bearing meteorite. It would be hard to imagine any test that would distinguish between (1) and (2).

      So it'll come down to (1)/(2)/(3) versus (4). If it's (4), I'd expect us to be able to see that pretty easily - eg: Totally different fundamental mechanisms for just about everything.
      • Re:Existence (Score:4, Interesting)

        by kasperd ( 592156 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:11PM (#8697477) Homepage Journal
        I'd expect us to be able to see that pretty easily - eg: Totally different fundamental mechanisms for just about everything.

        Even if the mechanisms are the same, there could be a difference. Many chemical structures involving carbon can exist in two different variants, that are each others mirror image. In life on earth a lot of those apear only in one variant. In some cases the mirror image of something existing in our bodies would actually be toxic. And AFAIK the torsion of DNA in every living cell here on earth is the same direction. Now even if life did evolve in the same way independendly on Earth and Mars, what are the chances that all of those structures would be the same direction in Earth life and Martian life? If we found life on Mars with DNA that was mirrored compared to our DNA, what would that tell us?
  • by Lispy ( 136512 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:08PM (#8696758) Homepage
    If this turns out to be what it seems to be it is a dream come true. I wonder how this might affect future missions. Hopefully they will start digging at last and not only look for indirect signs of life such as water.

    There were some experiments [space.com] onboard the Viking landers that showed some odd results but weren't invested any further.

    The fact that the fine rovers are unable to detect life is a shame I think. They were designed to search for water only, I know. But they should at least have been equipped with minimal biological experiments too, just in case. I can't wait for a samplereturn mission...

    • There were some experiments onboard the Viking landers that showed some odd results but weren't invested any further. The fact that the fine rovers are unable to detect life is a shame I think. They were designed to search for water only, I know. But they should at least have been equipped with minimal biological experiments too, just in case. I can't wait for a samplereturn mission...

      "Minimal" might not be good enough. They found out the hard way from Viking that it is often difficult to rule out natur
      • Sure, microscopic evidence would be king. But I think that a simple reproduction of the Viking results would still harden the theory. That would be a good start. We'll see what the future holds in stock with all those findings coming in I believe it will be hard to ignore such experiments on future missions.
    • If we did find some sort of microbial life on Mars, how confident can we be in our ability to keep it from spreading to Earth until we understand how it works, especially given how even some terrestrial phenomena such as prions have only been identified recently? Any time two ecosystems that have disjoint for a long time come into contact, often one side will "win", such as the mass extinction of South American marsupials or the uncontrolled growth of rabbits in Australia. (I'm also concerned that we may
    • by Evil Pete ( 73279 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @08:18PM (#8699298) Homepage

      James Lovelock was the guy who invented the current notion of 'Gaia'. Whether you agree or disagree with that idea I think you'll find the origin of it interesting. He was hired by JPL to devise ways of finding life on Mars. So he asked the question: How could we tell there is life on Earth ? And being a chemist he concluded the atmosphere is a dead giveaway. The oxygen in the air indicates life, so with a powerful telescope (he actually wanted to build a 1,000 inch scope to find life on the planets via atmosphere chemistry) you could find if life existed. His argument was not to look just for oxygen but to find if the atmosphere was far from chemical equilibrium ... that would be the telltale sign. Needless to say NASA was not impressed with the idea that they didn't really need to go to Mars to tell if life was there.

      Here [erg.ucd.ie] is one link. Doubtless there are others.

  • looks like someone beat me to the punch....about the fart joke.

    o well, the good thing about passing gas on Mars, no one there to smell and complain about it.... (the ol' "If you pass gas and no one is around to smell it, does it smell?")

    but this is good news. Now they don't have to rely on just solar power when they eventually make an outpost on Mars; they can collect the methane and use fuel cells to power the station (especially at night)
  • by cybermace5 ( 446439 ) <g.ryan@macetech.com> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:12PM (#8696785) Homepage Journal
    Methane is already pretty common in the universe. Given the amount of craters on Mars, the simplest explanation is probably that a methane-laden asteroid or comet hit Mars at some point.
    • by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:33PM (#8696892)
      This article states that Methane on Earth would have a life of 300 years and that on Mars it'd be shorter.

      http://news.independent.co.uk/world/science_medi ca l/story.jsp?story=505454

      "Methane is destroyed by the intense ultraviolet radiation on Mars because the gas has a relatively short photochemical lifetime of about 300 years, so if it is present there must be something producing it continually, Professor Formisano said. "[Its presence] is significant and very important. If it is present you need a source," he added."
      • Yeah, so, chunks of methane from comets hit Mars and got covered up with dirt due to the windstorms, and are gradually melting without being exposed to ultraviolet light.
      • by SB9876 ( 723368 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:16PM (#8697531)
        Also, the methane appears to be associated with a particular geological region. While it could be a methane rich comet, it would have to be a massive comet nucleus to be able to release that much methane. Also, it's quite unlikely that a cometary nucleus could survive impact with Mars - the ice and methane would be vaporized and widely dispered.

        Life or some sort of residualt volcanic activity are still the more likely explanations.
    • So what you're saying is; someone on earth farted onto a rock with such force that it was propelled into space and hit the very same planet we're investigating at the moment?

      Suuuure.. mr probability. ;)
  • Martian Methanogens (Score:5, Informative)

    by SmackCrackandPot ( 641205 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:13PM (#8696789)
    From Research Nebraska [unl.edu]

    Methane is the second-most abundant greenhouse gas. The world's agricultural livestock produce about 17 percent of the methane in the atmosphere. A byproduct of digestion, cattle and other ruminant animals produce methane when organisms in their stomachs called methanogens break down fiber in grasses and grains they eat.

    Here are some pictures of the little critters [sidwell.edu], and here [msu.edu]
  • Does anybody remember the earlier attempt at proving life? At that time, results showed that something happened, but NASA came back and stated that it was almost certainly not life. The original designer of the project and a number of others have come forth and said that they think the test was valid. It will be interesting to see what the future holds.
    • Re:Viking Mission (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mbone ( 558574 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:38PM (#8697298)
      I remember Viking very well, as I worked on analysis of its tracking data. They had 3 biology experiments, plus a mass spectrometer (and various other instruments for other purposes, such as weather monitoring.)

      Before the mission, they published the criteria for a postitive result from each biological experiment (along the lines of, add water to Martian soil and CO2 is given off; sterilize another soil sample and add water, and CO2 is not given off). The biology tests passes _every one_ of the pre-published tests, albeit with some variations.

      However, the mass spectrometer saw no significant organic molecules (and there were no obvious large critters visible through the camera). This, more than anything, made them discount the biology results. If they had detected large organiic molecules in the soil, they would have claimed life, in my opinion. Instead, they came up with non-biological explanations.

      However, this was all before we knew about the ability of life to exist deep underground and buried in rocks, etc., While the Viking results are not generaly regarded as requiring life, they are certainly not against a biological explanation of the Methane findings.
  • by WombatControl ( 74685 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:15PM (#8696797)

    Since we now know that once Mars had liquid water in significant amounts, and now we've found evidence of methane gas, there can only be one conclusion:

    There were cows on Mars.

    But what happened to the cows on Mars, you say?

    Well, that's simple. As any reputably zoology dragon will tell you [rathergood.com] cows have infinite density. As Dr. Joel and Alex Veitch discovered in the Jaunuary 2004 issue of The Annals of Completely Fraudulent Research:

    Cows have a very high surface tension. Surface tension can be seen in water, in the way pond-skaters are able to skim across the surface of a body of liquid without sinking, and also in the way drops of water always tend towards spherical shape. In cows (and meat in general) the surface tension forces them to tend toward the shape of a cube. The forces at work in the cow are finely balanced, just allowing it to maintain cow-shape. However, if 2 cows should be allowed to touch each other, the surface tension will immediately force them to merge. This larger body of meat is unable to maintain its cow form against the surface tension forces now at work, and so will form a Cow Cube, or Cowube, pronounced "COWUUUUBE" with the mass of 2 cows.
    The seriousness of the implications of this phenomenon for the dairy industry, and the future of humanity, should not be underestimated. This Cowube, with its 2-cow mass, exerts enough gravitational force to suck in nearby cows of lower mass. As they touch the Cowube, they merge immediately with it, forming a Cowube of ever-increasing mass, exerting ever-increasing gravitational force on cows.
    Eventually, this vast and ever-growing cube of meat will implode under its own gravitational force, forming a singularity. This is why, as every astronomer knows, the surface of every black hole is always a cow.

    Obviously this means that all of Mars' water was not evaporated by a thinning atmosphere, but carried off by a massive cow-based singularity.

    In order to prevent such a catastrophe from occuring on this planet it is clear that we must begin a systematic effort to minimize the cow population. Preferably using barbeque sauce...

  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:16PM (#8696801) Homepage Journal
    I will love to see the ramifications to the worlds religions when life is actually found. The fall-out will be grand. With some luck it will put into proper perspective all the in-fighting that has been caused by 'holy wars' over the centuries.

    Or they may just dismiss it as ' well, we don't consider that blob of bacteria life ' and move on believing man is the center of the universe, and continue to pummel their un-believing neighbors in a neighboring state.

    Of course, depending on which book you use at the time...
    • by snarkh ( 118018 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:34PM (#8696899)

      Why should there be religious ramifications to finding bacterial life on Mars?
    • by greygent ( 523713 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:34PM (#8696901) Homepage
      I reckon they'll just update their religions as these discoveries are made. It's happened before: we developed planes that could fly above the clouds and see no heaven, and they moved heaven to space. We've explored space, and they've.... moved it elsewhere.

      Religion will still survive, perhaps unfortunately.
      • Ever read Descartes......Ergo et sum.

        Basiclly he hypothesis that god is the thing that is beyond that which we can comprehend around us.

        Therefore (My extrapolation of Decartes reasoning) until we can understand and control the creation of the universe there will always be room for "God".

    • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:50PM (#8696988) Homepage
      Comments like this just demonstrate how clueless many atheists are about others' beliefs. (I don't buy much of it either, but at least I know what I'm not buying.) Nowhere in the Torah, the Gospels and Epistles, the Quran, or any other holy scripture I'm aware of, does it say that there is no life outside this world. No contradiction means no problem. To most theists, the discovery of life on Mars would just be yet another example of the wonders of God's creation.
      • I never said that. Only that i know several religions around the world will be impacted by the discovery. ( as well as the general population when they learn we really aren't that unique in the grand scheme of things ).

        However, as many point out, they will just 'adapt' their view of the universe so that their 'faith' isn't effected.

        Sad really, if you have to adapt to keep things in check...
    • They will simply find a way around it and accomodate it, no matter what.

      Just because evolution is widely accepted today did not mean that the religions that preached otherwise went away, right?

      Also, some religions might argue that God did not create intelligent life out there, merely microbial life which is not of consequence and all that.

      Unless we have little green men with death rays landing up, religions will find a way to cover things up and move on. And even then, they will probably be branded agent
    • by hak1du ( 761835 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:11PM (#8698447) Journal
      I will love to see the ramifications to the worlds religions when life is actually found. The fall-out will be grand. With some luck it will put into proper perspective all the in-fighting that has been caused by 'holy wars' over the centuries.

      If the discovery of a universe that is about a dozen billion light years large and a dozen billion years old, of 60ft cold-blooded monsters with banana-sized teeth, of nuclear fusion, of evolution, and of all that didn't change religion, the discovery of bacterial life on Mars won't either. In fact, most people will probably neither know or care about it.
  • Terraforming Mars? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kilogram ( 520192 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:22PM (#8696835) Homepage

    According to this article [guardian.co.uk] at The Guardian, NASA is actually thinking of creating earth-like conditions on Mars. Will I get to visit Mars in my lifetime? My expiration date is sometime in the years around 2070.

    BTW, has anyone seen Red Planet [imdb.com]?

    • BTW, has anyone seen Red Planet?

      'Fraid so.

      Bad science.

      Bad writing.

      Bad movie.

    • There is one very important question to be answered if Mars is going to be terraformed and I have never seen anyone even ask it. We know that the smaller (and closer) moon is going to crash into the planet in 'a few thousand years' at the current rate of orbital decay. So what happens when we build up the atmosphere (assuming we find a way to do it) to many times its current density for human habitability? Isn't this inevitably going to increase the drag on that satellite? Figuring out how much it will incr
  • by scsirob ( 246572 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:27PM (#8696864)
    .. I think this stinks..
  • by craXORjack ( 726120 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:29PM (#8696871)
    He added: "It's difficult to imagine that primordial methane [from geological activity] would continue outgassing for four billion years [the age of Mars]. This looks very intriguing."
    Is he assuming that geological activity stopped 4 billion years ago? I believe it used to be assumed that Mars core had cooled to a solid state long ago, but a NASA release [nasa.gov] just last year concluded that the core is indeed still molten. But maybe the crust has cooled so much and become so thick that there are no plate tectonics to break the surface and release primordial hydrocarbons.
  • by Nomihn0 ( 739701 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:31PM (#8696882)
    traces of Beano. That would be a sure sign of intelligent, carbon based life. . .
  • by schnarff ( 557058 ) <alex@noSpAM.schnarff.com> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:40PM (#8696938) Homepage Journal
    ...so little actual exploration happening now.

    Seriously, I applaud the efforts of the rovers and the orbiters. They're doing a lot of good science, and we should be proud of what they've shown us. But at the same time, human explorers could do so much more, for not a heck of a lot more money (this $1 Trillion price tag that's been floating around is bad journalism at its finest [thespacereview.com]). I say that all of this good news should serve as impetuous to get people on the surface of the Red Planet as soon as possible!

    To all those people who worry about cross-contamination, come on...the two environments are so different, the chances that a microbe from one could survive in the other are basically nonexistent. Besides, it's been proven that unsterilized meteorites have been moving from one planet to another for several billion years now, so if cross-contamination was ever going to happen, it already would have.
  • by Goalie_Ca ( 584234 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:43PM (#8696954)
    Someone's gotta tell these aliens that if they wanna stay hidden they better stop farting.
  • by napdawger42 ( 527126 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:46PM (#8696972)
    And here I thought all the methane was around Uranus....
  • by sbaker ( 47485 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:06PM (#8697090) Homepage
    The article says that methane in the atmosphere would decay over a few hundred years - so something is continuously renewing it...and that something is very likely to be life. Furthermore, we know (I think) that these hypothetical Martian beasts would have to be living underground in some very salty water.

    OK - I can buy that - but I've been reading a bit about this subject - and I happened on this article:

    http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/mystery_mo nd ay_040308.html ...which is talking about weird bacteria on Earth and how they manage to survive deep underground in salty water:

    "On Earth, organisms do thrive deep underground -- hundreds of feet below -- without a single ray of sunshine. They live off chemical energy instead, like methane or hydrogen produced in chemical interactions between water and rock."

    Wooaaahhh. Hold ON a minute. "methane ... produced in chemical interactions between water and rock" ???

    If methane can be produced between rock and water (eg: of the salty kind presumed to be found underground on Mars) then isn't the signature of 10 parts per billion of Methane in the atmosphere of Mars merely a further indication of underground water?

    That's not what the 'experts' are saying though. Clearly I'm missing something - but I don't understand what.

    Help?
    • by Angry Toad ( 314562 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @03:13PM (#8697142)

      I'm no geochemist, but it really seems to me like they're jumping the gun on this one. We *know* Mars had volcanic activity which can produce methane, and we don't know that there isn't any currently. We know **nothing** about life on Mars. Parsimony dictates that we presume geo(areo?)chemistry or volcanism until it can be clearly shown to be of another origin.
      • Wel we do have temperature measurements of Mars. If there is volcanic activity, we would see at a minimum the needed temperatures to power it. With a lack of requisite resulting temps, and no visible volcanic activity we could safely conclude it is tectonically/volcanicly not active.
    • It is not clear that your quotation (the link doesn't work BTW) is explicitly stating that methane is caused by chemical interactions between water and rock. It is very likely that that is what causes hydrogen. Think of the quote this way:

      They live off chemical energy instead, like (methane) or (hydrogen produced in chemical interactions between water and rock).

      And just because the organisms are living off methane, which is chemical energy, doesn't mean that the methane isn't created by other organisims.

  • Okay... I can understand it'd be a hugely big deal if we actually find E.T., and he's not only far more intelligent than us, but also stronger, cooler, and better looking!

    But what's the big deal with finding single-celled organisms on other planets? Are we in that dire a need of validation of theories about the origin of life on this planet that we're grasping blindly at the hope of "Is it here?" ... "What about here?"... "Let's try over here!"?

    Quite frankly, what difference does it really make how we

  • Martian atmosphere

    We all know there is no Martian atmosphere, or they wouldn't have built that nuclear atmosphere machine [darylscience.com] underground.

  • by Kupek ( 75469 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @04:51PM (#8697823)
    From the slashdot article description:
    The leader of the ground based astronomy team, Michael Mumma of the Goddard Space Flight Center, when asked if the methane was biological in origin, said 'I think it is, myself personally.'"
    From the article:
    Asked whether the continual production of methane is strong evidence of a biological origin of the gas, Dr Mumma said: "I think it is, myself personally."
    Dr. Mumma did not say he thinks the continual production of methane gas is necessarily biological in origin, but that it is strong evidence that it is biological in origin. Sublte difference in wording, but I think the difference in semantics is significant.

    With that said, this certainly is exciting news.
  • Proving Native Life. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:20PM (#8698047)
    If there turns out to be life on Mars, the best way to go about proving that this life was not carried from Earth by space probes would be very easy.

    All one would have to do is study the DNA structure of the Martian life. There would be stark differences between Martian life DNA and Earth life DNA. The best analogy of this I can put forward would be one dealing with snowflakes. On the base level snowflakes are exactly the same thing. They form the same way, and are made of the exact same stuff (ice), but the key difference here is that while there are many similarities, no two snowflakes are exactly the same.

    While the base similarities would be the same, there would be sufficient differences in Martian microbe DNA to say with absolute resolve that "These are not Earth bacteria!"
  • by bear_phillips ( 165929 ) * on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:06PM (#8698419) Homepage
    Doesn't NASA have a plan for about any contigency? Anyone know what there plan is if they DO find life on Mars? Do they go public? Do they only tell the president? Going to the far fetched. What are the odds that NASA had some time of plan (at least on paper) on how to handle seeing an ET with the rovers?
  • by aauu ( 46157 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @07:54PM (#8699154) Homepage
    We have found a number of meteorites that are of martian origin. There should be a similar number of Earth origin meteorites on Mars. Mars had surface water at various times. Earth life has most likely already been planted. I would not be suprised if any place in the solar system that has liquid water already has forms of life derived from Earth. Show me life on another star system.
  • by StrawberryFrog ( 67065 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @08:18AM (#8702167) Homepage Journal
    Several Decades ago, Dr. James Lovelock wrote:

    "we examined atmospheric evidence from the infrared astronomy of Mars. We compared this evidence with that available about the sources and sinks of the gases in the atmosphere of the one planet we knew bore life, Earth. We found an astonishing difference between the two atmospheres. Mars was close to chemical equilibrium and dominated by carbon dioxide, but the Earth was in a state of deep chemical disequilibrium. In our atmosphere carbon dioxide is a mere trace gas. The coexistence of abundant oxygen with methane and other reactive gases, is a condition that would be impossible on a lifeless planet. Even the abundant nitrogen and water are difficult to explain by geochemistry. No such anomalies are present in the atmospheres of Mars or Venus; their existence in the Earth's atmosphere signals the presence of living organisms at the surface. Sadly, we concluded, Mars was probably lifeless."

    So what's changed? Is the methane a trace that Lovelock's instruments couldn't pick up? Did he discount it as too small to be significant? Or did he discount it because there was no free oxygen?

    Or did the bacteria arrive since then on one of our probes?

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