An international team of researchers has discovered traces of methane in Martian meteorites, a possible clue in the search for life, though it could be in microform.
The researchers examined samples from six meteorites of volcanic rock that originated on Mars and found that the meteorites contain gases in the same proportion and with the same isotopic composition as the Martian atmosphere.
All six samples also contained methane, which was measured by crushing the rocks and running the emerging gas through a mass spectrometer and compared with two non-Martian meteorites, which contained lesser amounts of methane.
The finding shows that there is the possibility that methane could be used as a food source by rudimentary forms of life beneath the Martian surface, the way microbes do on the Earth.
“Other researchers will be keen to replicate these findings using alternative measurement tools and techniques,” said Sean McMahon, a Yale University postdoctoral associate. “Our findings will likely be used by astrobiologists in models and experiments aimed at understanding whether life could survive below the surface of Mars today.”
Co-author Nigel Blamey, of Brock University, said the team plans to analyze more meteorites to re-establish the findings.
McMahon said the Yale team’s approach may prove helpful in future Mars rover experiments. “Even if Martian methane does not directly feed microbes, it may signal the presence of a warm, wet, chemically reactive environment where life could thrive,” McMahon said.