29 March 2004

Methane find on Mars may be sign of life

A strong signal of life on Mars has been detected by scientists at the US National Aeronautics and Space Admin- istration (Nasa) and the European Space Agency.

Each group has independently discovered tantalising evidence of methane in the Martian atmosphere. Methane, a waste product of living organisms on Earth, could also be a by-product of alien microbes living under the surface of the Red Planet.

The detection of methane has been the holy grail of scientists studying the Martian atmosphere, as its presence could provide unequivocal proof that there is life beyond Earth.

Neither Nasa nor the European Space Agency (ESA) has publicly announced the findings, but specialists who have seen the data believe the discovery is genuine - although they are unsure what it means in terms of confirming the presence of life.

The discovery comes weeks after Nasa and ESA announced new findings relating to the presence of huge bodies of water on Mars which could have supported life.

Finding even remnant life on Mars means life is probably common throughout the universe. Whether anything more complex than single cells are hanging around out there is still to be answered, although Ockham would prolly slash great big holes in the proposition that Terra is unique enough to be the only site of complex evolution.

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