Five million cows

NM State University’s Malynda Chizek has been working on the problem of methane in the atmosphere of Mars for awhile. As the result of observations from Earth as well as Mars (both spacecraft in orbit and on the ground), she’s come up with an estimate as to how much methane is being produced each year on the planet.

A press release from NMSU, Looking for Life in Mars Methane quotes Chizek at length on the subject:

“In a couple of my presentations, I show how many cows would be required to equal the amount of methane that astronomers have observed on Mars,” she said. “Depending on which observations I am looking at, that number is close to five million cows, or roughly 200,000 tons of methane production.”

(Map from article by Michael Schirber, Methane Debate Splits Mars Community, Astrobiology Magazine, 12 Sept 2011).

Doesn’t look like a very dead planet to me*.

(Credit image to Cows on Mars).

*Chizek, like most of the scientific community, is still neutral on the issue of whether the methane detected is of biological origin. Observations made by the Curiosity rover may decide it, but thus far no data related to methane has yet been released by NASA.