Scientists Keep Detecting Methane On Mars. Could It Point To Life?

“I think the game is afoot."

Six years ago, NASA's Curiosity rover discovered methane in Mars' atmosphere. Since then, scientists keep confirming that initial discovery — but they just can't figure out why.

Because methane gas decays quickly, its presence alone suggests that something has produced it recently. Typically, that something is microbes.

Since the Curiosity first detected methane around Mars, scientists have debated whether it was a technical error or if the amount was so small as to be meaningless. But a new piece of research published in Nature Geoscience on Monday by scientists with the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter suggests a source of the methane: the Gale Crater. The research is particularly notable because the Curiosity rover was near the Gale Crater when it found elevated methane levels, The New York Times reported.

"Our finding constitutes the first independent confirmation of a methane detection," Marco Giuranna, a scientist at the National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy, told The New York Times.

Now, two things seem increasingly possible: one is that living microbes which thrive in oxygen-deprived places and release methane as waste exists on Mars, according to The Week. The second is that the methane is the result of a geological event, which would still point scientists towards places more likely to have life. Michael J. Mumma, a scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, explained to the The New York Times the importance of the findings with a simple quip. 

"I think the game is afoot," Mumma said.

Cover image via  Dotted Yeti / Shutterstock.

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