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Last week, scientists made front page headlines when they announced that the rover currently exploring Mars had sniffed methane – an organic compound that just might be the waste product of Martian life, or not. The reason this hasn’t been declared the finding of the decade, or even the century, is that there are a few processes that can produce methane in the absence of life. Still, scientists are encouraged because they can at least envision tests that in the future might distinguish biologically produced methane from that made by geologic processes alone.

So far, robotic exploration of the Martian surface reveals nothing but bad real estate – it’s cold, dry, lacking in atmospheric pressure and subject to sterilizing radiation. But below ground might be another story. In recent years scientists have found life underground on our planet in the form of organisms that might just be tough enough to survive on Mars. And so the investigation continues. Experts on Mars and the search for extraterrestrial life helped me compose a few reasons their quest is worth pursuing.

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