Last Wednesday, the Curiosity rover detected in Mars’ atmosphere a high concentration of methane, a gas which is usually associated with microbial life on Earth. While it’s too early to determine whether the gas was produced by Martian microbes or geological processes, the discovery prompted NASA scientists to reschedule Curiosity’s weekend to perform follow-up experiments. If the high concentration of methane is confirmed by Curiosity and orbiters around the Red Planet, the next step would be to locate the source of the gas and determine how it was produced.

This will require challenging data analyses, and possibly sending a new generation of instruments to Mars, so a definitive answer is unlikely to arrive anytime soon. But Curiosity’s observation has sparked a furor of speculation because it is perhaps the most promising avenue for determining if life once existed on our planetary neighbor.

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