Wednesday, April 20, 2005

455: NASA Scientist: 'Mars Could be Biologically Alive'

NASA Scientist: 'Mars Could be Biologically Alive':

Mumma and his research colleagues have used ground-based spectrometers to carry out a simultaneous search for methane and water vapor. "Pronounced enhancements" of methane have been detected over several equatorial regions on Mars, consistent with "enhanced local release," Mumma reported.

In scientific terms, the methane line detected is "very strong indeed," Mumma noted. Using the high-tech infrared spectrometers, spectra of six narrow longitudinal bands across the face of Mars were taken. A spectra is an analysis of light broken into its rainbow of colors.

"Every one of these longitudes shows a very substantial enhancement in the equatorial zone," Mumma explained. "So this is a very intense source of methane on Mars in this region. It also requires a very rapid decay of methane…more rapid than photochemistry would allow," he added.

On Mars, the photochemical lifetime of methane is very short - roughly 300 years. Therefore, any methane now lingering within the martian atmosphere must have been released recently.

Mumma said that his data – along with what Mars Global Surveyor's Thermal Emission Spectrometer measured at the same time – suggests that "a major source" of methane over Valles Marineris is evident during the fall equinox on Mars.

Understanding the naturalistic processes which result from life on Earth helps us look for life elsewhere, and the search for life on Mars guides our understanding of the origins of life here.