Did high methane level indicate life on Mars?

The discovery of high amounts of methane in the air on Mars lead to excitement as it was seen as an indication of life on the Red Planet, or beneath its surface. But the follow-up trials by NASA reported that the methane had fallen back to usual levels. This leaves the question of life on Mars unanswered.

Does Methane indicate the presence of life?

Methane (CH4) is a naturally occurring gas mostly produced in biological processes by microbes. Some amount of Methane occurs as underground natural gas which was formed by earlier generations of microbial life.

Methane is also produced by abiotic processes (those that do not involve living organisms). Methane has been found to occur in formations such as rocks, springs and aquifers. Studies have concluded that methane was formed by chemical reactions between carbon and hydrogen atoms at low temperature.

Why there is a new found interest now?

The last week’s data from NASA s Curiosity rover showed methane levels of an unprecedented 21 parts per billion. This created excitement to the extent that scientists at NASA s Jet Propulsion Laboratory cancelled Curiosity s original schedule for the weekend and preponed it so curiosity could repeat the experiment.

Scientists were hoping to detect the source of the methane, and in the process clues that might point to the existence of life on the Red Planet. But the second reading showed that methane levels have fallen back to less than 1 part per billion. Now scientists predict that surge in methane levels was due to a transient methane plume, which has been observed in the past.