While this new discovery — which was detailed in a new study published in the journal Nature Communications this week — isn’t proof of life on the red planet, it adds to the growing body of evidence that methane exists, in some capacity, on Mars.
“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,” Sean McMahon, co-author of the research said in a statement.
The meteorites studied by researchers were found on Earth after they were blasted out from Mars sometime in the planet’s past. Even though these rocks left Mars, they took a piece of the red planet with them.
Much of Earth’s methane is created through the biological processes of organisms, but that isn’t the only way the gas is created. Methane can also be unleashed due to geological events such as volcanic eruptions.
Earlier studies by space probes exploring Mars have also found methane in the Martian atmosphere. The European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission sniffed out methane in the atmosphere, and in 2014, the Curiosity rover detected a burp of the gas on Mars. India’s Mars orbiter, currently exploring the red planet, also has the potential to seek out methane in Mars’ atmosphere.
“One of the most exciting developments in the exploration of Mars has been the suggestion of methane in the Martian atmosphere,” University of Aberdeen professor John Parnell, who directed the research, said in a statement.
“Recent and forthcoming missions by NASA and the European Space Agency, respectively, are looking at this, however, it is so far unclear where the methane comes from, and even whether it is really there,” he added. “However, our research provides a strong indication that rocks on Mars contain a large reservoir of methane.”