Methane found in meteorites from Mars

Gas could nourish life deep underneath Red Planet’s surface

MARS, METEORITES AND METHANE, OH MY  Meteorites from Mars (seen in this image from the Mars Express orbiter) contain copious amounts of methane, which could nourish subsurface microbial life.


If microbes have taken refuge beneath the surface of Mars, then they probably won’t starve. Martian rocks store quite a bit of methane, which simple life could use to extract energy, researchers report June 16 in Nature Communications. The findings suggest that Mars is hiding underground habitable environments similar to those found deep in Earth.

Samples from six Martian meteorites, delivered to Earth millions of years ago after asteroids slammed into the Red Planet, released substantial amounts of methane and hydrogen when crushed, Nigel Blamey, a geochemist at Brock University in St. Catharines, Canada, and colleagues report. Both gases could be produced by water mixing with the minerals olivine and pyroxene in the rocks, the researchers say.

The Curiosity rover recently detected spikes of methane in the Martian atmosphere, indicating that something is creating fresh batches of the molecule (SN: 1/10/15, p. 11). Microbes and geochemical reactions can create methane, but Curiosity’s findings couldn’t identify the responsible party.

The surface of Mars is probably hostile to life, but microbes might flourish beneath the ruddy terrain. Microbial communities lurking deep in the Earth use methane as a source of carbon and energy. The new meteorite results suggest similar environments exist on Mars, though it’s not clear whether anyone has ever — or is currently — making use of them.

headshot of Associate News Editor Christopher Crockett

Christopher Crockett is an Associate News Editor. He was formerly the astronomy writer from 2014 to 2017, and he has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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