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2017-10-05 PRESS RELEASE-The mystery of methane on Mars: proof of life or just chemistry?

The discovery of methane in the atmosphere of Mars has opened a discussion of the existence of life on the red planet. Microbes actively producing this otherwise unstable gas in Mars' atmosphere seemed to be a likely explanation for its presence and for varying its concentrations depending on the season. Professor Svatopluk Civiš and his colleagues from the J. Heyrovský Institute of Physical Chemistry of the CAS, introduced a new theory that combines the formation of methane on Mars with a photochemical reaction that does not require the presence of microbes. Their latest publication in Nature Astronomy sums up the results of research to reveal the formation of methane from carbon dioxide by sunlight on acid minerals.

A new study by Czech scientists is trying to explain how methane could originate on our planet, but also on Mars, at an early stage of their development - in the time before the onset of life on Earth. Methane is considered as a reactive gas that could have participated in the chemical reactions of the formation of biomolecules, which may have eventually become life itself.  Svatopluk Civiš believes that the synthesis of more complex substances has the impact of asteroids on Earth and probably also on Mars more than 3.8 billion years ago. If similar mechanisms were taking place on Mars and on Earth, life could have originated on both planets, but probably survived just on Earth up to the present and the only photochemical reaction on Mars ensure the production of methane.

Svatopluk Civis's research team deals with the issue of life on Earth in connection with asteroid impact for more than 15 years and is one of the founders of this scientific direction in the Czech Republic. Czech scientists have successfully demonstrated that the oldest living structures appeared soon after the period of the so-called Late Heavy Bombardment of our planet. The PALS (Prague Asterix Laser System) - operated by the Institute of Plasma Physics of the CAS in cooperation with the Institute of Physics of the CAS, was also used for the experiments. Civis's team has also recently reproduced the famous Uray and Miller experiment with modern instruments that were not available in the early 1950s and showed that they created all the essential building blocks needed for life. It seems that relatively hostile conditions on the early planets, including asteroid impacts and strong electric discharges, have made the formation of basic biomolecules very friendly.

Press release in Czech version.

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