There is no other way to say this, other than the fact that Mars Rover Curiosity has discovered something ‘farting’ on the planet Mars. Despite the awkward wording, that’s basically what has been detected. Our robot up there has detected several organic compounds, one of which is Methane gas. So the question that NASA scientists are asking themselves is, What exactly is passing the gas on Mars?
It would probably have to be a great deal of gas being detected not only in the planet’s ground samples, but also in the atmosphere itself. There were also other organic compounds detected in the soil sample that was analyzed by Curiosity.
This temporary increase in methane sharply up and then back down tells us there must be some relatively localized source, said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, a member of the Curiosity rover science team. There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.
Our robotic explorer on Mars has been sniffing the air on Mars for the passed 20 months. In late 2013 and early 2014, two of those months have shown an increased concentration of the methane gas (Seven parts per million). Before and after this, readings were about one tenth that level. This is a great mystery to NASA scientists who are so far left with no obvious explanations, unless a potential Martian burrito party had taken place during this two month period. Perhaps those sensors are working just a little bit too well!
All jokes aside, Curiosity also detected different Martian organic chemicals in powder drilled from a rock dubbed Cumberland, the first definitive detection of organics in surface materials of Mars. These Martian organics could either have formed on Mars or been delivered to Mars by meteorites.
Organic molecules, which contain carbon and usually hydrogen, are chemical building blocks of life. Curiositys findings from analyzing samples of atmosphere and rock powder do not reveal whether Mars has ever harbored life, but the findings do tell us that Mars is chemically active in both the past and the present.
This first confirmation of organic carbon in a rock on Mars holds much promise, said Curiosity Participating Scientist Roger Summons of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Organics are important because they can tell us about the chemical pathways by which they were formed and preserved. In turn, this is informative about Earth-Mars differences and whether or not particular environments represented by Gale Crater sedimentary rocks were more or less favorable for accumulation of organic materials. The challenge now is to find other rocks on Mount Sharp that might have different and more extensive inventories of organic compounds.
I can’t help but wonder that if we did meet intelligent life on Mars, would the speech begin with, Had we not heard your farts, then we may have never known that you were there.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist making that last the statement. I decided to research the information that I included in this article after I asked my daughter what she was reading about on the NASA website. Her response was, ‘Alien gas.’ Is this a sign that life has once or currently exists on Mars? Only time will tell, but only a human being could find the humor in just how it was discovered if this does in fact, becomes fact that lifeforms are responsible for the unexplained methane production.