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Curiosity Detects Fluctuating Methane Emissions on Mars

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curiosityThis could be it, folks. The evidence for life on Mars is mounting—it’s still circumstantial at this point, but every new discovery and every tantalizing hint gets us closer to answering the million (billion?) dollar question: did life ever exist on Mars? And the obvious follow up question: does life exist on Mars right now? In addition to the evidence released last week about Gale Crater’s massive lake and the amount of time they now believe Mars was ripe for life, scientists released another new finding involving surprising and fluctuating methane emissions on the Red Planet. Sure, there are a few possible explanations for the methane, but one of them is that it comes from something biological—i.e., Martians. Probably only microbial ones, but still. This is a seriously big deal.

As you might know, Curiosity Rover’s time on Mars has culminated in its journey to Mount Sharp, where it’s been examining rocks and soil buried deep below the mountain’s surface. Mount Sharp is located in Gale Crater, which scientists now know used to have a bunch of lakes, rivers, and deltas, and seems like a pretty good spot to foster some kind of life. But life is tough to find, especially when you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for. Martian meteorites have been found to contain organic compounds, but scientists still can’t say with certainty that they prove the existence of past life on Mars. So Curiosity keeps looking. One of the best ways scientists know of to hunt for life is by studying methane emissions (one of the gases responsible for the greenhouse effect).

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Massive Sinkhole Likely Caused By Methane

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craterIn 1908, an asteroid or comet exploded over Tunguska, Siberia, creating a massive crater and going down in history as the biggest impact event of all time, roughly 1,000 times the magnitude of the atomic bomb that leveled Hiroshima. Recently, another huge crater showed up in Siberia on the Yamal peninsula, measuring roughly 100 feet wide. Scientists have been studying this massive hole, trying to figure out what caused it. This time around, it seems the cause is the release of methane caused by the warming of the Siberian permafrost.

Of course, before scientists devised this theory, some people attributed the crater to a UFO, which could have caused the hole during its landing (even though that doesn’t make too much sense — talk about coming in hot!). Scientists ruled out a meteorite as the cause early on, and suspected that the sinkhole had something to do with the temperature changes in the tundra, even as far as the Yamal peninsula, a place so remote it’s known as the “end of the world.”