Living organisms produce methane, but so do some geological processes. Finding methane on Mars could raise a possibility for past or even present life on Mars. Or it just could mean some really interesting chemical interactions are happening between Martian rocks and water! Or both!
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The Hunt for Elusive Methane
Scientists using Earth-based detectors have reported finding methane in the Martian atmosphere. Curiosity has been sniffing for it since landing, but has found none. But that doesn't mean it's not there. It could be that methane is emitted from just a few places on Mars, or just in certain seasons. The hunt continues!
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Hard to Get
Once it's in an atmosphere, methane gas dissipates fairly quickly. Even if it is emitted from underground rocks or microbes, traces of methane might disappear before Curiosity could detect them. Still, Curiosity's tunable laser spectrometer, seen in this test, carries on the search.
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A Warmer Past
Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars experiment, called SAM, found that a thicker atmosphere existed on Mars billions of years ago and could have kept parts of the planet warm enough for liquid water. How long was that warm period, and was methane part of the mix? Those remain open questions!