it seems fitting that we close out this year's - and this week's - blogs, a week in which we've been largely focused on space matters and NASA warp drive experiments, on strange projects in Russia called "Noah's Ark", with a story that returns us once again to humanity's long obsession with Mars, and the possibility that the Red Planet may once have been home to life, and that it may be home now to some form of life. Many of you sent this article to me, and this one is significant, for it is an indicator that NASA's long period of waffling on the question of Martian life - and there have been prior indicators - may be coming to an end:
NASA's Cusiosity Rover made the measurements, as the article notes, in Gale Crater, along with confirming the presence of water bound to Martian minerals. But here's the crux of the issue, as summarized by The Daily Mail article:
"Life is the chief producer of methane on Earth, but there are many non-biological processes that can also generate the gas.
"The low background level of methane detected by Curiosity can be explained by the sun's rays degrading organic material possibly deposited by meteors, said the Nasa scientists.
"But the spikes of methane required an additional source, which was unlikely to be a recent impact by comet or asteroid.
"Such an object would have had to measure several metres across and would have left a large crater - no sign of which was visible.
"The short time-scale of the methane spikes did not suggest that the gas was released from volcanic deposits trapped in ice, called clathrates either.
"Nor did it appear to come from the release of gaseous methane that had become bound to the soil."
"The Nasa authors are cautious about jumping to conclusions, but conclude that 'methanogenesis' - the formation of methane by microbial bugs known as methanogens - may be one answer to the riddle.
"They wrote: 'Our measurements spanning a full Mars year indicate that trace quantities of methane are being generated on Mars by more than one mechanism or a combination of proposed mechanisms - including methanogenesis either today or released from past reservoirs, or both.'"(All emphases added)
For those who recall those experiments of Viking several years ago, and NASA's handling of them, this is a rather breathtaking "change of policy," for the possibility is at least now being admitted. And with that possibility, then 2015 may well see further experiments from the Curiosity Rover that will either confirm, or deny, this interpretation. But for now, if one looks at that last statement quoted above carefully, NASA has just come as close as it has ever come to saying "we have found evidence of non-terrestrial life on Mars."
2015 is going to be an interesting year...
See you on the flip side...