A new study published in Geophysical Research Letters found that Mars might have been warm enough to support running rivers which could have made possible the existence of life forms. Methane appears to have been responsible for the warming up of the planet.
The study revealed that methane could have acted as a greenhouse gas on ancient Mars, and this helped in the warming process. Also, when methane interacted with carbon dioxide and hydrogen, warm periods resulted and the existence of liquid water on Mars was possible.
Robin Wordsworth, Harvard professor of environmental studies, declared that certain conditions must be fulfilled so that life should be possible on a planet. These conditions include the presence of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and the optimal pH conditions.
Ancient Mars may have had the conditions to sustain life. Four billion years ago, the Sun was fainter than it is today and the radiation that reached Mars could have been trapped in the atmosphere, creating the greenhouse effect.
Today, carbon dioxide, which is the most abundant greenhouse gas on Earth, is 95 percent of the Martian atmosphere. But the perfect combination of carbon dioxide with methane and oxygen could have made the atmosphere hotter, by absorbing more radiation from the Sun. However, atmospheric escape changed these conditions. In fact, the red color of the planet is given by the escape of hydrogen that caused the rusting of the oxygen.
Methane used to be abundant on the planet. Billions of years ago, geological transformations occurring on the surface of Mars released methane into the atmosphere and it was later converted into hydrogen. The scientists found that a similar process is occurring on one of Saturn’s moons, Titan.
Methane is no longer abundant in the atmosphere of Mars, but studies found that some methane producing microorganisms may be able to survive there. Moreover, Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, is planning to make it possible for humans to colonize Mars and is trying to produce methane on the planet.
The aim of the research is to prove that planets can have liquid water on their surface even if they are further away from the Sun. Also, if future missions on Mars will be performed, scientists might find answers to questions related to the geological processes that produce methane.