First of all, congratulations to NASA’s New Horizons team for their outstanding work of shepherding their little spacecraft to its successful rendezvous with Pluto and beyond.
As new images and data are downloaded in the months ahead, we will learn a lot about our distant neighbor, but alien hunters and ufologists are likely to remain disappointed, as signs of alien activity, past or present, remain stubbornly absent.
A year after reporting that NASA’s Curiosity rover had found no evidence of methane gas on Mars, all but dashing hopes that organisms might be living there now, scientists reversed themselves on Tuesday.
Curiosity has now recorded a burst of methane that lasted at least two months.
This is exciting for two reasons. First, methane doesn’t last long on the surface of Mars, so it must have been created within the last few hundred years. Second, there are only two possible sources we know about, both of which would improve the chances that life exists in some form on Mars:
It could have been created by a geological process known as serpentinization, which requires both heat and liquid water. Or it could be a product of life in the form of microbes known as methanogens, which release methane as a waste product.
Even if the explanation for the methane turns out to be geological, the hydrothermal systems would still be prime locations to search for signs of life.
It’s always possible there is another explanation for the presence of methane on Mars, and scientists will no doubt be working diligently to eliminate those other possibilities in the months ahead, but if the finding holds up, we could be on the cusp of a truly significant breakthrough in the hunt for alien life.
The SETI Institute recently posted video of a panel discussion from SETIcon 2 on YouTube called “Do Any Exoplanets Have Intelligent Occupants?” While the video is a couple of years old, it’s an interesting overview of the where we are in the hunt for alien life (except for when an audience member starts waffling on about Gaia and related nonsense).