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Methane Fluctuations On Mars – How Big Are The Implications?

The NASA Curiosity Rover team calls the findings “incredibly exciting”. Yesterday, they reported finding organic compounds in Martian soil, as well dramatic fluctuations in atmospheric methane – “the first in-situ detection of methane on Mars”. Given that methane breaks down quickly in the Martian atmosphere, these fluctuations suggest that a dynamic methanogenic system of some sort is at work.

According to NASA scientists, there are two possible sources of the methane surges on Mars: 1) Chemical reactions between the mineral serpentine and liquid water; 2) Life.

mars methane research

When I shared this news with my 13 year-old son, his eyes grew large with the implications. When I shared the news with my wife, her reaction was to shrug.

What’s your reaction – and why do you have this reaction?

In the past, I have questioned the value of human space travel to Mars. Now, I question how yesterday’s news of fluctuating methane on Mars should impact plans for human exploration of the planet. Should the news of methane, possibly from Martian life, encourage us to invest more in human missions to Mars, or delay those plans?

On the one hand, humans on Mars could conduct a quicker, more adaptable search than robot rovers could. On the other hand, the introduction of life from Earth to Mars could forever contaminate the planet, making study of Martian biology much more difficult.

I’d like to hear other people’s thoughts on this subject. For those who want to find out more, the video below is of yesterday’s press conference on the research, nearly an hour long.

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

2 thoughts on “Methane Fluctuations On Mars – How Big Are The Implications?”

  1. Jim Cook says:

    I think this is extremely, soil-shudderingly cool, even if the source is non-biological. It indicates an active Mars and further things at which to poke. Poke!

  2. Tom says:

    Curiosity has discovered organic matter on Mars

    Molecules found by Curiosity on Mars have been confirmed as organic matter — the building blocks of all known forms of terrestrial life.

    The Curiosity rover has found and analysed the first definitively identified piece of organic matter on the surface of Mars.

    These organic molecules, consisting primarily of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms, are the building blocks of all life on Earth. However, it is important to note that these molecules may not have come from life forms on Mars — organic molecules can be created from chemical processes that do not involve life, NASA said. At this stage, there is not enough evidence to determine the provenance of the molecules — but either way, their presence has meaning.
    [read the rest]

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