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Mars methane: from microbes or minerals?

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Mars looks like it's reading from a Monty Python script: "Oi'm not dead yet; Oi'm getting bettah."

Planetary scientists announced on Thursday that they've found three regions on the red planet that have pumped methane into the Martian atmosphere.

The big question now: What's generating the gas? On Earth, it can come from geological processes. But it also comes from microbes. So, Mars could be biologically alive, geologically alive, or some combination.

The research team, led by Michael Mumma at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., gives a hint of what it thinks the source could be. But, hey, why open that envelope just yet?

Astrobiologists are tickled by the news -- even though they readily agree that the processes generating the gas are still unknown.

"The implications are quite exciting if it's not a strictly a geochemical process," says Frank Timmes, a professor at Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration in Tempe.


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