Climate & Space Prof. Sushil Atreya recently commented in a New York Times article that talks about possible reasons for the presence of methane gas on the Red Planet. For decades the existence of the gas in the Martian atmosphere was the subject of some debate among planetary scientists, as the plumes didn’t fit with what they understood about the planet. The community has come to accept the idea in the recent years, but the question remains as to why the gas is there.
From the article:
“The presence of methane is significant because the gas decays quickly. Calculations indicate that sunlight and chemical reactions in the thin Martian atmosphere would break up the molecules within a few hundred years, so any methane detected must have been created recently.
“It might have been created by a geological process known as serpentinization, which requires both heat and liquid water. Or it could be a product of life — specifically methanogens, microbes that release methane as a waste product. Methanogens thrive in places lacking oxygen, such as rocks deep underground and the digestive tracts of animals.
“Even if the source of the methane turns out to be geological, the hydrothermal systems that produce the emissions would still be prime locations to search for signs of life.”
Read the full article: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/01/science/mars-methane-gas.html