The big astronomy news today comes from an article in Science describing the presence of methane on Mars, a sign that the planet may carry life as well. Of course, the news is not exactly, well, new, but as ScienceNOW describes:
The first news of martian methane claims came in 2004 (Science, 26 March 2004, p. 1953). But the early data--from spacecraft and ground-based telescopes--were controversial. Spacecraft were not detecting all of the spectroscopic signatures of the gas, for example, and ground-based observers had to contend with interference from methane and other trace gases in Earth's atmosphere.
There is no doubt that these are extraordinary times for the Red Planet. With multiple crafts already there, and future missions already in the works, who knows what the future holds for Martian science?
Just as a point of reference, I found this really cool article in Scientific American, that was originally written in May of 2007, when many of the original methane findings were originally noted.
To add intrigue to these possibilities, astronomers studying both these worlds have detected a gas that is often associated with living things: methane. It exists in small but significant quantities on Mars, and Titan is literally awash with it. A biological source is at least as plausible as a geologic one, for Mars if not for Titan. Either explanation would be fascinating in its own way, revealing either that we are not alone in the universe or that both Mars and Titan harbor large underground bodies of water together with unexpected levels of geochemical activity. Understanding the origin and fate of methane on these bodies will provide crucial clues to the processes that shape the formation, evolution and habitability of terrestrial worlds in this solar system and possibly in others.
Isn't it fantastic how science evolves? What do you think? Life on Mars? Leave your thoughts in the comments.