Mars today - a world of cold and lonely deserts. No obvious signs of life, at least on the surface. Indeed, it looks as if Mars has been cold and dry for billions of years, and its atmosphere is so thin that liquid water on the surface quickly boils away as soon as the ultraviolet radiation of the sun scorches the planet’s surface.
Pretty bleak picture. But the study, published in Science Express, designed to overturn the prevailing opinion on the lifelessness of the Red Planet. NASA scientists for the first time confirmed the presence of large amounts of methane in the Martian atmosphere, and this points to the fact that Mars is still alive in a biological or geological sense.
Methane, being one of the most important metabolic products of living organisms is the main component of natural gas in the world. However, the ability to live - not the main source of methane. Geologic processes such as volcanic activity or the oxidation of iron, also produce methane.
If microscopic Martian life is producing the methane, it probably lives very far beneath the surface, where it is still warm enough for the existence of liquid water. Liquid water, as well as the energy (radiation, for example) and the presence of carbon necessary for all known forms of life.
Methane, accumulated in such underground zones might be released to air through the pores or cracks that open during the warm seasons, connecting the deep zones to the atmosphere at crater walls or canyons (see animation on this topic, ~ 2.3Mb).
However, it is possible that found methane in the Martian atmosphere is the product of geological activity. On Earth formation of iron oxide (rust) leads to the production of methane and Mars this process could continue, with water, carbon dioxide and the internal heat of the planet. Another option - volcanic activity. Currently, there is no evidence of active Martian volcanoes, but ancient methane trapped in the "ice traps" (the so-called clathrates) that might now be released and get into the atmosphere.
No matter what future research will tell us about the nature of the detected methane (biological or geological activity), one thing is certain: Mars is not so dead as we had hitherto believed. We will tell you the exciting news from the horse’s mouth.