Mars missions may learn from meteor Down Under

May 30, 2012
Mars

A discovery about the make-up of the atmosphere of Mars could help inform future missions searching for life there.

Scientists have tried to find out how the planet's environment came to contain , which contains carbon – a substance found in all living things.

They found that meteorites, which continually bombard the surface of , contain enough carbon compounds to generate methane when they are exposed to sunlight.

Researchers say their findings give valuable insights into the planet's atmosphere. Scientists planning future missions to Mars could use the findings to fine-tune their experiments, potentially making their trips more valuable.

To reach their findings, researchers carried out experiments on samples from the Murchison meteorite, which fell on Australia more than 40 years ago. The team took particles from the rock – which has a similar composition to meteorites on Mars – and exposed them to levels of ultraviolet radiation equivalent to sunlight on the red planet, which is cooler than Earth.

The team, from the University of Edinburgh, the Max Planck Institute in Germany and Utrecht University, found that the amount of methane given off by the particles was significant, and could account for a large part of the methane in Mars' atmosphere.

The study, published in Nature, benefitted from related studies of and ultraviolet radiation supported by a Royal Society Leverhulme Trust Fellowship and the Natural Environment Research Council, with input from the UK Astrobiology Centre.

Dr Andrew McLeod, of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences, said: "Whether or not Mars is able to sustain life is not yet known, but future studies should take into account the role of sunlight and debris from meteorites in shaping the planet's atmosphere."

Explore further: Computer simulation suggests early Earth bombarded by asteroids and comets

Related Stories

Life on Mars theory boosted by new methane study

Dec 08, 2009

Scientists have ruled out the possibility that methane is delivered to Mars by meteorites, raising fresh hopes that the gas might be generated by life on the red planet, in research published tomorrow in Earth an ...

Organic carbon from Mars, but not biological

May 24, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Molecules containing large chains of carbon and hydrogen--the building blocks of all life on Earth--have been the targets of missions to Mars from Viking to the present day. While these molecules ...

Recommended for you

Exploring Mars in low Earth orbit

15 hours ago

In their quest to understand life's potential beyond Earth, astrobiologists study how organisms might survive in numerous environments, from the surface of Mars to the ice-covered oceans of Jupiter's moon, ...

Lifetime of gravity measurements heralds new beginning

17 hours ago

Although ESA's GOCE satellite is no more, all of the measurements it gathered during its life skirting the fringes our atmosphere, including the very last as it drifted slowly back to Earth, have been drawn ...

NASA's IceCube no longer on ice

21 hours ago

NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) has chosen a team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to build its first Earth science-related CubeSat mission.

User comments : 0