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The case of the disappearing-reappearing Martian methane

17 Dec 2014, 19:30 UTC
The case of the disappearing-reappearing Martian methane
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Methane on Mars is a huge deal, so much so that every announcement finding evidence for it in probe or telescope data gets a big media hoopla. That’s because methane is a common byproduct of life as we know it, though some non-biological processes make it too. (We’re pretty certain, for example, that the methane […]

Acme Disappearing-Reappearing Ink, from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”
Methane on Mars is a huge deal, so much so that every announcement finding evidence for it in probe or telescope data gets a big media hoopla. That’s because methane is a common byproduct of life as we know it, though some non-biological processes make it too. (We’re pretty certain, for example, that the methane on Neptune isn’t made by ice bacteria burps.) Whatever the possible source, though, the Mars Curiosity rover is the latest in a long line of missions to turn up tantalizing signs of methane.
The problem is that it isn’t so easy to just say “here is methane, and it comes from process X” (where X could be microbes, Martian cows, or some geological chemical reaction). And the situation is complicated by the way the methane behaves: rather than a steady supply, ...

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