Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Podcast: Life on Mars?

Is there life on Mars?

Even pop stars want to know. The Mars rover Curiosity (the fourth rover to explore Mars) touched down on the red planet just over a year ago, and scientists are now trying to make sense of the data it is sending back. In September, two groups of researchers published separate findings that may help scientists one day answer the question: are we alone in the solar system?
This week on the PhysicsCentral podcast I talk about those new results: Curiosity found Martian soil containing 2% water, but so far Curiosity can find no trace of methane in the Martian atmosphere.

Water in the soil means microbes that require water for life (like every singe living thing on Earth) could potentially live there. It also means astronauts could potentially harvest water from the soil. But the lack of methane (if it is confirmed) might mean there are no methane-producing microbes on Mars. Almost all the methane on Earth comes from biological entities, including microbes, livestock, and decaying plant matter. There are also microbes on Earth that do not produce methane, so it's absence doesn't mean there is or never was life on Mars. But the results pose a tricky question for scientists. Check out the podcast to hear more.

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