Methane discovery boosts hopes for life on Mars

The red planet: NASA is aiming to put humans on Mars in the 2030s.

Are we about to find life on Mars? NASA’s rover has detected clouds of methane on the red planet. The gas, usually produced by living things, could point to life beneath the planet’s surface.

What’s happening

For years, we Earthlings have looked up at the stars and wondered if we are alone. A new discovery suggests that we might not have to travel far to get our answer.

NASA’s Curiosity rover has detected clouds of methane gas on Mars. It is one of the biggest signs, so far, that there could be life on the red planet.

Find out more

The rover noticed a spike in methane levels in Mars’s atmosphere. On Earth, the gas is usually produced by living things.

Scientists are excited, but cautious. They have given the rover new instructions to investigate the plumes of gas, which are coming from beneath the planet’s surface.

It is believed that Mars was wetter and more habitable when it was a young planet, around 4 billion years ago. If there is life today, it is likely to be in the form of tiny organisms called microbes beneath the planet’s surface.

Last summer, researchers detected a lake of liquid water under Mars’s surface for the first time. This year, two probes will head to the red planet to look for the building blocks of life.

Are we about to find life on Mars?

Some say…

It’s very early days. There are other explanations for the methane. It could be ancient gas stored inside the planet escaping. Also, methane can be produced by other chemical reactions aside from living things. It is important that we do not get too excited. Besides, it will be a long time before we can study Mars closely enough to know for sure.

Others think…

The evidence for alien life on Mars is growing each year, and this latest discovery is possibly the most exciting of all. Methane is one of the tell-tale signs of life. With new probes about to head to Mars, we are on the verge of discovering the answer to one of the biggest questions of our existence: we are not alone.

You Decide

  1. Are we alone in the universe?

Activities

  1. What do you think Martians might look like? Draw your own alien and label it, showing its similarities and differences to human beings.

Some People Say...

“If we are interested in Mars at all, it is only because we wonder over our past and worry terribly about our possible future.”

Ray Bradbury, US author (1920-2012)

What do you think?

Word Watch

Methane
A gas that is usually produced by living things.
Atmosphere
The layer of gas surrounding a planet.
Habitable
Somewhere that life can survive.
Microbes
Tiny life forms made up of new cells that are too small to see with the naked eye.

Subjects

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.