New Zealand scientists announced Friday international researchers had formulated a simple measurement to determine whether there is life on Mars.
The research led by the University of Canterbury suggested life on Earth’s nearest neighbor could be detected by measuring the ratio of hydrogen and methane in the Martian atmosphere.
Geologist Dr Christopher Oze said the team had, through experiments at the Water-Rock Interaction Laboratory in the United States over the past three years, examined the dynamics of hydrogen and methane production in hydrothermal systems.
Oze said in a statement: “Life forms on Mars may be under the surface of the planet, where no probe can currently go right now.
“But methane and hydrogen formed in specific hydrothermal systems are eventually released at the surface so all that needs to be done is for an analysis to be made at a vent to measure the gas that is released.
“What’s really nice about this is that it is an incredibly simple method — all you need to do is measure the methane and hydrogen levels on Mars, something that can easily be done now.”
The team’s experiments, which excluded living things, involved measuring the rates of methane production during a process called olivine hydrolysis or serpentinization, which occurred in the deep subsurface of both Earth and Mars.
Oze said olivine was an abundant mineral found on both planets and, by using water to convert it to serpentine, the team measured how quickly methane was produced.
This was then compared to measurements taken in the field where living organisms were present.
He said: “From these experiments the hydrogen to methane ratio over time divided hydrothermal systems that did not involve living matter from those in which biota was present.
“This really gave us an ‘aha’ moment where we realized this method could be used to look at life on other planets.”
“From our calculations low hydrogen-methane levels could indicate that there might be life, if it’s similar to that on Earth.”