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Martian methane latest proof that 'Red Planet' is habitable?

This image shows concentrations of Methane discovered on Mars. Credit: NASA
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Jan 15, 2009
Plumes of methane gas detected on Mars could be a sign of geological or biological activity -- and possibly the latest indication that life can be sustained on the Red Planet, according to a study released Thursday.

The presence of methane implies active geological, or possibly even biological, processes on Mars, and the amount of methane observed on the "Red Planet" is comparable to some active sites on Earth, the study published in the journal Science found.

"We believe this definitely increases the prospects for finding life on Mars," principal researcher Michael Mumma told The Washington Post.

"No other discovery has done as much to increase the chances of finding life."

Researchers noted that living systems produce more than 90 percent of Earth's methane, with the other 10 percent being geochemical in origin.

Researchers said that one primary plume of Martian methane contained an estimated 19,000 metric tons of the gas -- about as much as is produced at a massive hydrocarbon seep at Coal Oil Point in Santa Barbara, California.

The scientists said they have detected seasonal variations of methane emissions over some locations on Mars, but remain uncertain about the source of the gas.

"The methane we detected is of unknown age. Its origin could be ancient or perhaps recent," wrote Mumma, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and his co-authors.

"Both geochemical and biological origins have been explored, but no consensus has emerged."

Mumma and a team of researchers used high-dispersion infrared spectrometers to monitor about 90 percent of the planet's surface for three Martian years (the equivalent of seven Earth years) for their study.

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Mine life may show how Martian life exists
Tower, Minn. (UPI) Dec 22, 2008
Scientists could learn about Martian water life by plumbing a spring in an iron ore mine in Minnesota's Iron Range, University of Minnesota researchers say.

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