TAMPA (CBS TAMPA) — New readings from NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity show that the Martian surface has almost no trace of methane – a sign that the planet likely doesn’t support living microbes.
The NASA craft’s new findings show that methane levels are about six times lower than previous estimates for the gas that is a strong indicator of life on Earth. The rover landed on Mars in August 2012 to study and determine if the planet most similar to the Earth could support life.
Methane in Earth’s atmosphere is mainly released by life-forms, and scientists have long hypothesized that methane would be stable in the Martian atmosphere.
However, the new findings published on Sept. 19 in the journal “Science” are disappointing to those helping to revive the possibility of life on the red planet.
“Because methane production is a possible signature of biological activity, our result is disappointing for many,” said study lead author Christopher Webster, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. “There aren’t significant amounts of methane, so that paints a whole different picture. We can say that there isn’t significant microbial activity.”
“Based on earlier observations, we were expecting to land on Mars and measure background levels of methane of at least several parts per billion, but saw nothing,” Webster told SPACE.com.
The readings, however, don’t rule out the possibility that some living microbes have existed at some point on Mars.
“Curiosity established that it was a habitable world about a billion or less years ago,” said Webster. “With water flowing and energy –the right ingredients for simple life forms.”