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Things are happening on Mars January 15, 2009

Posted by Sarah in science.
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Martian map showing red methane hotspots in the atmosphere

Earlier today, The Sun reported that evidence of little green men on the Red Planet had finally been spotted. Not so, said the scientists in a briefing this evening – or at least not necessarily, not definitively so. But it looks like we may have come just one small step closer to discovering if life exists on the Red Planet. For the first time, firm evidence has been found that active processes are taking place on Mars, possibly biological in nature, and this is an exciting find.

Using the Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, a team of scientists led by Michael Mumma of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center have spotted methane being released into the Martian atmosphere. Remarkably the methane detection was confined to a few “hotspots” without being dissipated uniformly into the atmopshere by the wind, like we see here on Earth. This means that for some reason, the methane has a very short lifetime in the atmosphere, and is possibly being actively destroyed. The observed hotspots were seen in early 2003, during the Northern hemisphere sason on Mars; the following year they had disappeared.