NASA eClips: Methane: An Indicator for Life on Mars?
In this pair of eClips videos, students will learn how scientists are using spectroscopy to identify methane plumes on Mars. They will also explore some of the biological and geological processes that form methane on Earth and the implications for astrobiologists who are looking for life beyond Earth.
The first definitive detection of methane in the atmosphere of Mars indicates the planet is still alive, in either a biologic or geologic sense, according to a team of NASA and university scientists.
If microscopic Martian life is producing the methane, it likely resides far below the surface, where it is still warm enough for liquid water to exist. Liquid water, as well as energy sources and a supply of carbon, are necessary for all known forms of life. However, it is possible a geologic process produced the Martian methane, either now or eons ago. On Earth, the conversion of iron oxide (rust) into the serpentine group of minerals creates methane, and on Mars this process could proceed using water, carbon dioxide, and the planets internal heat. Although we dont have evidence on Mars of active volcanoes today, ancient methane trapped in ice "cages" called clathrates might now be released.
See how NASA scientists are investigating the recent discovery of water ice and methane plumes on Mars to test their hypotheses about the similarities between Earth and Mars.
Related Mathematics Problems
These problems provide a mathematical introduction to some of the issues related to life and planetary surface conditions
Problem 393: Taking a stroll around a martian crater! Students use a recent photograph of a crater on Mars to estimate its circumference and the time it will take NASAs Opportunity Rover to travel once around its edge. [Grade: 6-8 | Topics: scale model; distance = speedxtime; metric measure] (PDF)
Problem 392: Exploring the DNA of an organism based upon arsenic. Students estimate the increase in the mass of the DNA from an arsenic-loving bacterium in which phosphorus atoms have been replaced with arsenic. [Grade: 8-10 | Topics: Integer math; percentages] (PDF)