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Meteorite Reveals Clues in Search for Life on Mars

• http://www.space.com, Staff

At the center of the meteorite study is methane — the simplest organic molecule — which has had scientists scratching their heads over its presence on Mars ever since the gas was first discovered on the planet in 2003.

To learn more about methane in Mars' atmosphere, researchers examined samples from the Murchison meteorite that fell over Murchison, Victoria, in Australia in September 1969. The study could offer valuable insights into the Red Planet's atmosphere, and could play an important role in the planning of future missions to search for life on Mars, the scientists said.

The Murchison specimen is well-known for the organic material it contains, but it also has a similar composition to meteorites on Mars. As such, the scientists took particles of the space rock and showered them with ultraviolet radiationequivalent to sunlight on the Red Planet.
 
According to the researchers, meteorites, which regularly bombard the surface of Mars, contain enough carbon compounds to generate and unleash methane gas when they are exposed to sunlight. In fact, the amount of methane from the meteorite particles was significant enough that it could account for an ample part of the methane measured in the Martian atmosphere.

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