After analyzing samples taken from six meteorites of Martian volcanic rock, a team of international scientists have confirmed the existence of methane originating from Mars.
Why methane in Martian meteorites is an important discovery
Methane is an important chemical compound that can sustain basic life forms like microbes. The existence of methane on Mars also lends support to those who believe life on Mars has and perhaps continues to exist. Identifying the methane involved crushing the rocks and measuring the escaped gases using a mass spectrometer.
Other researchers will be keen to replicate these findings using alternative measurement tools and techniques. Our findings will likely be used by astrobiologists in models and experiments aimed at understanding whether life could survive below the surface of Mars today.CO-AUTHOR SEAN MCMAHON, A YALE UNIVERSITY POSTDOCTORAL ASSOCIATE IN THE DEPARTMENT OF GEOLOGY AND GEOPHYSICS
Although crushing rocks and measuring traces of methane seems easy, the discovery is the result of the work of an international team of scientists representing a variety of research institutions. Led by the University of Aberdeen, the project also involves the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, the University of Glasgow, Brock University in Ontario, and the University of Western Ontario.
Methane in meteorites aside, scientists are also interested in determining whether or not methane exists in the Martian atmosphere. According to research director and University of Aberdeen professor John Parnell, “Recent and forthcoming missions by NASA and the European Space Agency, respectively, are looking at this, however, it is so far unclear where the methane comes from, and even whether it is really there. However, our research provides a strong indication that rocks on Mars contain a large reservoir of methane.”
The team’s next steps are to study additional Mars meteorites for further verification, and to collaborate with future rover missions to Mars. Yale’s McMahon goes on to explain that “even if Martian methane does not directly feed microbes, it may signal the presence of a warm, wet, chemically reactive environment where life could thrive.”