Image is a courtesy of NASA
"Methane is quickly destroyed in the Martian atmosphere in a variety of ways, so our discovery of substantial plumes of methane in the northern hemisphere of Mars in 2003 indicates some ongoing process is releasing the gas," said Michael Mumma of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "At northern mid-summer, methane is released at a rate comparable to that of the massive hydrocarbon seep at Coal Oil Point in Santa Barbara, Calif."
The methane is important sign, because it is the main component of natural gas on Earth. And it is possible that some microscopic Martian life is producing the methane and it likely resides far below the surface where it is warm enough for liquid water to exist. But also, NASA stated that possible geological process that produced Martian methane could happen now or even eons ago. It will take future missions for discovering the origin of the Martian methane, like NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory.
"We observed and mapped multiple plumes of methane on Mars, one of which released about 19,000 metric tons of methane," said co-author Geronimo Villanueva of the Catholic University of America in Washington. "The plumes were emitted during the warmer seasons, spring and summer, perhaps because ice blocking cracks and fissures vaporized, allowing methane to seep into the Martian air."
The research was funded by the Planetary Astronomy Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington and the Astrobiology Institute at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. The University of Hawaii manages NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility.