Bitesize: Life On Mars

25 Dec 2014
POSTED BY Y Magazine

Q: What do you mean? Is there life on Mars?
A: Possibly. It’s not confirmed, of course, but the Nasa Curiosity Rover has potentially found signs of organic life on the red planet.

Q: What kind of signs have been found?
A: The rover has come across pockets of methane gas. Organic matter is made up of carbon bonded with other elements, often hydrogen and oxygen. Living things are made up of it, but life is not necessary for it to exist.

Q: Methane is the smallest organic compound, consisting of one carbon and four hydrogen atoms.
A: What does that mean in layman’s terms?
Methane is a gas that is usually produced either by living things or things that once lived. And we all know that methane is produced by living things by way of flatulence, or is created by decomposing organic material.

Q: So there may be life on Mars after all?
A: Let’s not get too hasty here. It has also been recogninsed that methane can be produced by non-organic material. It can even come from water interacting with rock, for instance.

Q: Is Mars the only planet that has signs of life?
A: No. And that’s the really interesting thing about space. While Mars is the most studied planet for signs of life, there are other places where there could be life. One of the moons circling Jupiter, Europa, has signs of what appears to be an ocean on its surface. Another place of great interest for scientists looking for life beyond our atmosphere is Enceladus, a tiny moon of Saturn, just 250km wide. Dr Carl Pilcher, interim director of Nasa’s astrobiology institute at Ames research center in California, told a British newspaper: “Enceladus is delivering water to space on a regular basis, and guess what: it contains salts and organic compounds.”

Q: So is there life in a galaxy far far away?
A: We don’t know for certain, but we are using the force of science to try to find out!

Don’t say: There is no such thing ET.
Do say: Who knows, he may just yet phone home.

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