London: If at all there’s life on Mars, we are more likely to smell it before we see it. A new study has suggested that a chemical involved in bad breath and flatulence in humans may lead us to alien microbes on the Red Planet.
The sulphur-containing molecule methyl mercaptan is naturally produced in significant quantities on Earth only by microbes, including some that make their pungent presence known in the human body, reports New Scientist.
NASA`s next Mars rover is highly sensitive to the smelly chemical, which could betray the presence of Martian microbes, said Steven Vance of NASA.
The instrument in question is the Tunable Laser Spectrometer, which will fly on the Curiosity rover - set to land on Mars in 2012.
TLS was designed to analyze the carbon isotopes in Mars’s methane to search for signs that the gas has a biological origin. But the isotope tests might produce ambiguous results, so finding methyl mercaptan would help bolster the case for Martian microbes, said Vance.
The researchers are also planning to check TLS`s sensitivity to other gases produced by terrestrial microbes, like ethane.
"We’re demonstrating its ability to look at additional biomarkers and hopefully that will help us in our search for life," said Vance.