Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Video: Martian Methane To Power Red Planet Colonies?

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(Hat Tip: Universe Today)

Although its asteroid moons may play a key role in conquering the solar system, Mars itself was previously lacking in the "resource department."

Even though the red planet contains an abundance of water, the crimson world has yet another reason to boast with the discovery of methane emitting from its surface.

(NASA) Methane -- four atoms of hydrogen bound to a carbon atom -- is the main component of natural gas on Earth. It's of interest to astrobiologists because organisms release much of Earth's methane as they digest nutrients. However, other purely geological processes, like oxidation of iron, also release methane. [...]

"We observed and mapped multiple plumes of methane on Mars, one of which released about 19,000 metric tons of methane," said Dr. Geronimo Villanueva of the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. Villanueva is stationed at NASA Goddard and is co-author of the paper. "The plumes were emitted during the warmer seasons -- spring and summer -- perhaps because the permafrost blocking cracks and fissures vaporized, allowing methane to seep into the Martian air. Curiously, some plumes had water vapor while others did not," said Villanueva.

According to the team, the plumes were seen over areas that show evidence of ancient ground ice or flowing water. For example, plumes appeared over northern hemisphere regions such as east of Arabia Terra, the Nili Fossae region, and the south-east quadrant of Syrtis Major, an ancient volcano 1,200 kilometers (about 745 miles) across.

While NASA scientists debate on whether this methane is biological or geological (note: or would that be areological?), the fact that methane is escaping from the surface is exciting as it could enable future settlers to power their outposts without having to rely upon solar power (which is incredibly weak on Mars) or solar steam (which would be useless at night).

Hopefully NASA is able to send another rover to investigate this, as securing that region could help humanity establish a permanent outpost upon the red deserts of Mars.

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  1. Darnell, what are you going to burn the methane with? You could use peroxide if pure masses of the stuff can be found frozen, but there's no other natural oxidant produced on Mars. There's lots of oxygen locked up as ice - Mars is lousy with the stuff - but it takes serious energy to crack the hydrogen off from oxygen. Where is the energy going to come from?

  2. Good point Adam.

    I guess colonists will either have to find a way to spend an enormous amount of energy creating oxygen (perhaps a separate power plant for that?) or import oxygen from the moon (which also could be expensive).


You can either visit the stars or watch them from afar.

But if you choose the former, you'll definitely get a better view.

~Darnell Clayton, 2007

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