NASA Picked Up Signs Of Gas On Mars — A Potential Signal Of Life

It was the largest methane reading ever on the planet.

NASA's Curiosity rover came across large amounts of methane gas on Mars this week, an indication that microbes are living on the planet.

The data sent scientists into a flurry when it arrived on Earth Thursday. NASA scientists working on the Curiosity rover mission decided to clear their schedules for the weekend and see if they could replicate the measurements, according to The New York Times.  


NASA confirmed reports of the methane detection on Sunday. During a town hall event, Paul Mahaffy, the principal investigator on Curiosity's Same Analysis instrument, said he was "very confident" in the measurement's accuracy. 

"With our current measurements, we have no way of telling if the methane source is biology or geology, or even ancient or modern," Mahaffy said in a statement on NASA's website.

This image was taken by the left Navcam on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on June 18, 2019, the 2,440th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. It shows part of "Teal Ridge," which the rover has been studying within a region called the "clay-bearing unit Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech 

Earlier this year, NASA detected methane on Mars. It was one of a few times methane had made a blip on their instruments — but none were as definitive as the measurement this weekend. The discovery is significant because sunlight and chemical reactions usually break up methane molecules, according to The New York Times. That means any methane the rover is still picking up today is recent.

Scientists have hypothesized that life at one point existed on Mars, and may still, but has migrated underneath the desolate surface. If the source of the methane can be pinpointed, it may give researchers a place to look for microbes or bacteria that could teach us a lot about the Red Planet's history.

"Combining observations from the surface and from orbit could help scientists locate sources of the gas on the planet and understand how long it lasts in the Martian atmosphere," NASA said in a statement. 


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.