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Scientists have a new idea about the methane mystery of Mars and its impact on life

For centuries scientists have been speculating about the existence of life on Mars. But only in the last 15 years did the search for life (past and present) really begin to heat up.

At that time, methane was detected in the Martian atmosphere, an organic molecule associated with many forms of life here on Earth (ie a "biosignature").

Since then, an attempt has been made to study Mars Atmospheric methane has led to different results. In some cases, methane was found to be many times its normal concentration; others missed it.

To solve this puzzle, an interdisciplinary team at the University of Aarhus recently investigated a possible mechanism for the removal of methane from the Martian atmosphere.

Methane production on Mars It appears to be seasonal and varies between about 0.24 ppm in the northern hemisphere in winter and about 0.65 ppm in summer.

At the same time, extensive swaths were discovered, indicating that this is also the case periodically released from discrete regions. On two occasions, the Curiosity Rover happened to be near springs; in December 201

4 and again in June.

Over the years, various mechanisms for the production and disappearance of this methane have been proposed. These range from non-biological processes such as serpentinization (interactions between water, carbon dioxide and olivine stone) to biological production by microbes.

How it's removed has remained a mystery to this day, but more.


The most obvious mechanism is photochemical degradation, in which UV radiation from the sun releases the methane into carbon dioxide, formaldehyde and To split methanol. However, this process can not explain how atmospheric methane disappears so quickly, which is the most important part of the process.

For the sake of their study, which has recently appeared in the journal Icarus, the research team of the Mars Simulation University of Aarhus, Lab suggested that "saltation" might be responsible. In essence, they argue that wind-driven erosion could be responsible for the ionization of methane in compounds such as methyl (CH3), methylene (CH2) and carbine (CH).

Mars-analogous minerals such as basalt and plagioclase may be the cause The team found that these solids oxidize during the erosion process and gases can be ionized. This shows that ionized methane reacts and combines with mineral surfaces. They also found that the silicon atoms in the plagioclase (a major constituent of the surface material of Mars) bind to the carbon atoms in the methane-derived methyl group.

 (Mars Simulation Laboratory / AU) Simulation of wind erosion on Mars. (Mars Simulation Laboratory / AU)

Based on these results, the team concluded that this mechanism is much more effective than the photochemical process and could explain how methane is removed from the Martian atmosphere and is released into the atmosphere Mars atmosphere is deposited soil in the observed periods. Perhaps the most interesting is the impact of these findings on possible life on Mars.

In addition to the effects on methane, the study also showed that this mineral research can lead to the formation of reactive oxygen chemicals such as peroxides, superoxides and other chemicals that are very toxic to organisms – including bacteria. Essentially, the presence of these compounds means that life on or near the Martian surface could hardly exist.

Looking to the future, the team intends to conduct follow-up studies to investigate what happens to bound methane, the more complex organic matter possibly originating from Mars or deposited by meteorites. In short, they want to find out if the same erosion process is responsible for altering or removing this material, as is atmospheric methane.

The results of these studies will hopefully provide additional insight into a key issue related to the search for life Mars – ie how to preserve organic materials in the Martian environment. They will also inform future Mars missions looking for signs of vitality, such as ESA's ExoMars 2020 rover and NASA's Mars 2020 rover (both expected to arrive in 2021).

This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.

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