No methane on Mars possibly means no Martians

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

NASA tech
This is an awesome picture of the Curiosity rover’s Tunable Laser Spectrometer, which can detect carbon dioxide, water, or methane on Mars.

I’ve always thought it was silly that movies make Martians look like little green men with large round heads. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see a real one? Well, don’t hold your breath, because the latest information from NASA’s Curiosity rover – a car-sized robot sent to explore Mars – suggests there’s no life on the Red Planet.

Based on reports from Curiosity, Mars lacks a gas called methane, which is usually a sign of life. “It would have been exciting to find methane, but we have high confidence in our measurements, and the progress in expanding knowledge is what’s really important,” said lead author Chris Webster of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “We measured repeatedly from Martian spring to late summer, but with no detection of methane.”

Aw shucks, I really wanted to see a Martian. Well, thankfully the researchers say it’s possible for special life forms to exist without methane, so they’re still searching for galactic friends! So… no gas, no aliens… hey, wait a second. Haven’t researchers claimed that life possibly began on Mars? Maybe there were some Martians hanging around in the past, but then they decided to leave. It makes perfect sense, since the gas could fade away! Perhaps we didn’t catch them in time?

Actually, according to co-author Sushil Atreya from the University of Michigan, there’s no possible way for methane to disappear so quickly from an atmosphere. If there was any of the gas, NASA would have definitely detected it. You see, they used a device called a “Tunable Laser Spectrometer,” which is a fancy machine that uses lasers to detect gas. It’s really sensitive, yet there was barely enough methane to even notice. “This important result will help direct our efforts to examine the possibility of life on Mars,” said Michael Meyer, NASA’s lead scientist for Mars exploration. “It reduces the probability of current methane-producing Martian microbes…”

Images and video courtesy of NASA.