A NASA scientist claims that humans are already responsible for polluting Mars, although not a single man or woman has ever set foot on the Red Planet. According to the report he recently published, the Mars Curiosity Rover has released methane gas into the Martian atmosphere, creating a small greenhouse effect.
NASA’s Kevin Zahnle, working for the Ames Researcher Center in Moffett Field, California, was not actually part of the team investigating the methane samples detected on Mars, but regardless of the fact he came up with a theory explaining their origin. Instead of searching for microbial life forms that may have produced the methane, Zahnle believes the answer can be found closer than his fellow scientists think.
“I am convinced that they really are seeing methane,” Zahnle acknowledged. “But I’m thinking that it has to be coming from the rover.”
The possibility that Mars might produce methane intrigues the scientific community, as it could suggest the existence of living organisms on the Red Planet. Based on how things work on Earth, where most of the methane is produced by living beings, researchers argued that if Mars contains even a small quantity of the gas it could make a huge difference.
Hope ensued when in 2003 and 2004 telescopes found both on Earth and on the Martian orbit detected large quantities of methane in the planet’s atmosphere. Even if the gas had been the result of interaction between rocks and hot water, it would still have said a lot about Mars’ geological structure.
However, the methane vanished until 2013, when NASA’s Curiosity rover found traces the gas four times in a two month interval. While the Curiosity team published a report about a year later, pointing out that the methane is of either biological or geological origin, Zahnle suggested it might not even come from Mars.
Zahnle argues that the rover contains methane at a concentration 1,000 times higher than what was found in the Martian atmosphere. The quantity detected could have easily leaked from the rover’s methane chamber or from other chambers that may have been infiltrated by terrestrial air. Whichever might be the case, in Zahnle’s opinion the Red Planet’s methane is coming from Earth.
However, his fellow scientists are making a strong case against this theory, arguing that the high concentration alone cannot explain the large quantity of methane found on Mars. “To produce the amount we detected in Mars’ atmosphere, you’d need a gas bottle of pure methane leaking from the rover,” explained NASA’s Chris Webster, senior research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “And we simply don’t have it.”
While methane and living organisms go hand in hand, back on Earth the gas is believed to have a significant contribution to global warming. If Curiosity is indeed responsible for the traces found in the Martian atmosphere, then humans can be rightfully blamed for polluting the Red Planet even before setting foot on it.
Image Source: Mashable