Methane On Mars?

I’ve enjoyed following coverage of the Mars rover, Curiosity, and its mission across the Red Planet. It landed just over a year ago (August 5, 2012), and since then has traveled over one mile, performing many experiments along the way and taken hundreds of photos. The latest news, however, is disappointing for many who hoped to find evidence of life.

The big news report is that there’s no trace of methane on Mars… whoa, stop the press! That’s a serious announcement that caught the scientific community by surprise. Many of those involved in the mission, in fact, were expecting to find an abundance of methane because probes that had been orbiting Mars detected what they thought were “plumes” of methane gas.

The reason this is such a letdown for many scientists is because methane, one of the simplest organic molecules, is considered a potential sign of life. On earth, for example, animals such as cows release methane into the atmosphere in abundance, so scientists reasoned that some type of life-form was introducing the gas into the atmosphere.

According to a new report in the journal Science scientists now believe that only trace amounts of the gas- at most- exist on Mars. Measurements from the rover indicate that the maximum methane that could exist on Mars is 1.3 parts per billion. This news has scientists disappointed and puzzled. Physicist Jan-Peter Muller of University College of London said, “It’s a mystery surrounded by an enigma here… This clearly contradicts what has been measured from space and from Earth.”

The study’s lead author, Christopher Webster, an Earth and planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said, “Based on earlier observations, we were expecting to land on Mars and measure background levels of methane of at least several parts per billion, but saw nothing.” And since scientists failed to find methane there’s no reason to continue the experiment, which would have been to determine if the gas was caused by a biological source.

Yet scientists haven’t given up all hope. “However, it’s not to say that what is measured 1 meter (3 feet) above the ground is representative of the atmosphere in total — that’s a matter of interpretation, not necessarily a matter of fact,” said Muller. “It’s difficult to know whether the null measurement from Curiosity has to do with being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or whether it is representative of Mars,”

Scientists hope to increase the sensitivity of the rover so that it will have a better opportunity to detect methane and discover if any organics exist on the Martian planet. Webster said, “It’s possible that we may then see methane at extremely low levels — or, alternatively, we will not, and our upper limit will go down much further.”

I find it interesting that so much time, money and effort has been poured into the search for extraterrestrial life. Personally I find no reason to believe in alien life of any kind that hasn’t originated on earth. I also believe there’s no Biblical evidence for alien life. It seems that the main reason for believing in alien life is due to evolutionary thinking or simple fascination. I’m still fascinated by science fiction and fantasy stories, and I used to wonder with awe about the possibility of discovering alien life. But the more objective research I do the less I believe in the possibility.

For those who believe in evolution the search for E.T’s is almost logical- if life arose by chance in abundance on earth, then it stands to reason that it must have evolved elsewhere. It’s hard to argue with that type of logic, however, if we examine the evidence objectively, and we observe what is happening beyond our atmosphere, we’ll find nothing but a dead, sterile environment all across our solar system, and absolutely no signs of communication from beyond our solar system. Every piece of observable evidence- planets, comets, moons, etc.- indicates that there is no life beyond Earth. Even Carl Sagan admitted that there’s no compelling evidence for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Of course such evidence in-and-of-itself doesn’t destroy the possibility that life could exist in some other solar system or galaxy. But it does make the search for alien life seem unnecessary and impractical. Why spend billions of dollars searching for alien life that probably doesn’t exist? Why not put that money to better use?

As someone who loves science- and especially astronomy- I’m all for spending the money, but I’d rather see it spent wisely on things that will help all mankind. If we’re able to develop better technology and improve our existence, then that’s all good. If we’re able to colonize other planets and moons, then that’s cool.

God revealed in the Bible why he created the heavens and the earth, and what their purpose was. The earth was created to be man’s home, and it was designed to support his needs while working the land. The stars, moon, and other heavenly bodies were created to separate day from night, to serve as signs to mark the days and years, and to be light. Some may be critical of such a “human-centered” universe, thinking there’s nothing more special about us than any other organism, but God loved us enough to create the heavens and earth for our good and for us to enjoy, and one day there will be a new heaven and earth (Isaiah 65:17-18, 2 Peter 3:10-13, Revelation 21:1-3). With a Biblical view there’s really no surprise, puzzlement or disappointment over this latest discovery.

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