Researchers examined samples from six meteorites of volcanic rock that originated on Mars. The meteorites contain gases in the same proportion and with the same isotopic composition as the Martian atmosphere. All contained methane.
The discovery hints at the possibility that methane could be used as a food source by rudimentary forms of life beneath the Martian surface as it is on Earth by many microbes.
“Other researchers will be keen to replicate these findings using alternative measurement tools and techniques,” said co-author Sean McMahon, from Yale University.
“Our findings will likely be used by astrobiologists in models and experiments aimed at understanding whether life could survive below the surface of Mars today.”
The discovery was part of a joint research project led by the University of Aberdeen, in collaboration with the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, the University of Glasgow, Brock University in Ontario, and the University of Western Ontario.
“One of the most exciting developments in the exploration of Mars has been the suggestion of methane in the Martian atmosphere,” said University of Aberdeen professor John Parnell, who directed the research.
“Recent and forthcoming missions by NASA and the European Space Agency, respectively, are looking at this, however, it is so far unclear where the methane comes from, and even whether it is really there. However, our research provides a strong indication that rocks on Mars contain a large reservoir of methane.”
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.