(ORDO NEWS) — European scientists have found new signs of carbon dioxide (CO2) and ozone (O3) on the Red Planet, in a place in the atmosphere where they never expected to see them. This has generated a new wave of questions about the possibility of alien life on Mars.
Recently discovered signs of gases will help scientists more accurately determine if methane is present in the atmosphere of Mars. The presence of this gas on Mars has confused and alarmed scientists, as it could be a possible sign of alien life. Methane can be produced through geological or biological means, making it a potential biosignature for Mars and exoplanets outside the solar system.
But the presence of methane on Mars has been a hotly debated topic, with a number of conflicting detections made since 2003. The European Space Agency (ESA) probe has now detected previously unknown CO2 and O3 signatures at wavelengths where scientists expected to detect methane.
The signs were collected by the gas orbiter ExoMars, which has been studying the atmosphere of Mars for over two years. Here is what Kevin Olsen of Oxford University reported on this subject, who wrote a report on the results:
“What we found is extremely amazing. The substances are in the exact wavelength range where we would expect to see the strongest signs of methane. Before this discovery, the function of CO2 was completely unknown. We have identified ozone for the first time on Mars at this infrared wavelength.”
The atmosphere of the Red Planet is almost 100 times thinner than Earth and is dominated by CO2. Small amounts of nitrogen, argon, oxygen, carbon monoxide and other elements can also be detected. Both CO2 and O3 have already been detected by ESA’s Mars Express satellite, but not at all in the range where TGO is hunting for methane.
Alexander Tarakhovsky from the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow shared his thoughts:
“Finding an unexpected CO2 signature in the area where we are hunting for methane is very important. This has never been seen before, and therefore could play a role in detecting small amounts of methane on Mars.”
Despite the fact that methane can enter the atmosphere as a result of geological processes, on Earth most of the gas is produced as a result of life processes. Atmospheric methane is produced by methanogens – bacteria that create methane as a byproduct of metabolism – and by cows and humans.
The methane mystery on Mars is all the more exciting because gas is known to decay in just 400 years. Thus, the discovery suggests that the gas was produced or released in the relatively recent past.
In June 2019, NASA scientists following the Curiosity rover mission discovered about 21 parts per billion units of methane, the most methane ever measured by the mission.
However, it was not clear what the source of the methane was, and subsequent measurements a week later yielded significantly lower results.
Thus, new data indicate that if Martian methane is biological, it could be generated by microbes below the planet’s surface.
Another theory is that the gas was created by microbes millions of years ago, but has remained trapped under the ice and periodically exits the atmosphere. Deep liquid waters under ice could provide a habitat for microorganisms or a favorable location for hydrogeochemical methane production.
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