No life on Mars?

Print edition : November 30, 2012

The Mars rover Curiosity.-NASA/JPL/REUTERS

THE National Aeronautics and Space Administrations rover Curiosity has not been able to detect the presence of methane in concentrations high enough to indicate that methane-exhaling microbes exist on Mars. On November 2, the NASA team stated at a press conference that methane in the Martian atmosphere did not exceed 5 parts per billion, at 95 per cent confidence level, far less than the 10 ppb needed for the red planet to support microbial life.

The findings do not rule out the possibility of life on Mars, however, the team said. It was only able to perform four tests so far with Curiositys atmospheric analyser, the tunable laser spectrometer, because of technical problems. Also, it is possible, the team said, that the planet generates bursts of methane, which later disperse. The announcement will not, however, change the European Space Agencys plan to send its Trace Gas Orbiter to Mars in 2016.

R. Ramachandran

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