Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Does the methane cycle on mars point to life?(probably not but it's still pretty cool.)

According to a study conducted by Italian scientists using five years worth of data collected by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, methane concentrations on mars change with the seasons as well as location.

led by Sergio Fonti of Italy's Universita del Salento, scientists studied around three million observations from the Mars Global Serveyor made between July 1999 and October 2004, which is around three years on Mars. They found that during the fall methane peaks in three regions on the planet: Elysium, Arabias Terre, and Tharsis. The methane concentration in these regions then falls to it's lowest level in winter before rising to it's highest level of concentration in summer, allowing the gas to spread throughout the Martian atmosphere before dissipating and then somehow being replenished, beginning the cycle again.

The discovery and observation of extraterrestrial methane tends to excite researchers and the public alike because methane is most commonly produced one of two ways. Either through geologic activity, volcanic eruptions, or biological processes, the life cycle of plants and animals. But methane can also be produced through chemical processes such as carbon dioxide combining with melted ice beneath mars' surface. This, obviously, seems the most likely scenario given that the Tharsis and Elysium regions are home to the two largest volcanoes on Mars, and the Arabia Terrae region is believed to poses a vast amount of water ice beneath it's sands.


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