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Mars missions may learn from meteorite from Australia

Date:
May 30, 2012
Source:
University of Edinburgh
Summary:
A discovery about the make-up of the atmosphere of Mars could help inform future missions searching for life there.

University of Edinburgh scientists have made a discovery about Mars' atmosphere, which could inform the search for life there. Scientists have tried to find out how the planet's environment came to contain methane gas, which contains carbon -- a substance found in all living things.

They found that meteorites, which continually bombard the surface of Mars, contain enough carbon compounds to generate methane when they are exposed to sunlight.

Better value missions

Researchers say their findings give valuable insights into the planet's atmosphere.

Scientists planning future missions to Mars could use the findings to fine-tune their experiments, potentially making their trips more valuable.

Meteorite experiments

To reach their findings, researchers from the University of Edinburgh, the Max Planck Institute in Germany and Utrecht University carried out experiments on samples from the Murchison meteorite, which fell on Australia more than 40 years ago.

The team took particles from the rock -- which has a similar composition to meteorites on Mars -- and exposed them to levels of ultraviolet radiation equivalent to sunlight on the red planet, which is cooler than Earth.

They found that the amount of methane given off by the particles was significant, and could account for a large part of the methane in Mars' atmosphere.

Astrobiology input

The study, published in Nature, benefited from related studies of methane and ultraviolet radiation supported by a Royal Society Leverhulme Trust Fellowship and the Natural Environment Research Council, with input from the UK Astrobiology Centre.

"Whether or not Mars is able to sustain life is not yet known, but future studies should take into account the role of sunlight and debris from meteorites in shaping the planet's atmosphere," said Dr Andrew McLeod.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Edinburgh. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Frank Keppler, Ivan Vigano, Andy McLeod, Ulrich Ott, Marion Frόchtl, Thomas Rφckmann. Ultraviolet-radiation-induced methane emissions from meteorites and the Martian atmosphere. Nature, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nature11203

Cite This Page:

University of Edinburgh. "Mars missions may learn from meteorite from Australia." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 May 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120530152205.htm>.
University of Edinburgh. (2012, May 30). Mars missions may learn from meteorite from Australia. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120530152205.htm
University of Edinburgh. "Mars missions may learn from meteorite from Australia." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120530152205.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

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