Washington: Scientists have found that meteorites, which continually bombard the surface of Mars, contain enough carbon compounds to generate methane when they are exposed to sunlight.
The discovery could help inform future missions searching for life there as carbon is a substance found in all living things.
To reach their findings, researchers carried out experiments on samples from the Murchison meteorite, which fell on Australia more than 40 years ago.
The team took particles from the rock -- which has a similar composition to meteorites on Mars -- and exposed them to levels of ultraviolet radiation equivalent to sunlight on the red planet, which is cooler than Earth.
The team, from the University of Edinburgh, the Max Planck Institute in Germany and Utrecht University, found that the amount of methane given off by the particles was significant, and could account for a large part of the methane in Mars’ atmosphere.
“Whether or not Mars is able to sustain life is not yet known, but future studies should take into account the role of sunlight and debris from meteorites in shaping the planet’s atmosphere,” said Dr. Andrew McLeod, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences.
The finding has been published in Nature.