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European Space Craft Detects Ammonia on Mars

Posted July. 16, 2004 22:11,   


Sensors on board the European Space Agency’s Mars Express craft detected ammonia in Mars’ atmosphere which could indicate the presence of life on the red planet. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on July 15 reported that the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS) on Mars Express, which has been in orbit around Mars, has detected ammonia’s spectral signature in the Martian atmosphere.

Ammonia is not a stable molecule and only lasts two or three hours before it vanishes. Thus, the detection of the gas suggests two possibilities: there either are active volcanoes, which would keep replenishing the atmosphere with ammonia, or microbes on Mars. However, BBC pointed out that since none of the active volcanoes have been found yet, it is highly likely that the ammonia came from Martian microbial life.

The detection of ammonia comes just a few months after methane was found in the Martian atmosphere by the space probe last March. Details of new findings from the PFS will be released at an international conference next week in Paris.

Meanwhile, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that for the first time in 30 years, it will launch the Messenger spacecraft on August 2, which will orbit the planet Mercury.

Jin Lee leej@donga.com