Where Has All the Methane Gone?
By Steve Rowitt, Th.M., Ph.D.
Borrowing the title from the poet-troubadour of my generation, Bob Dylan, and exchanging “methane” for the “flowers” in his iconic anti-war anthem may seem out of place. I assure you that this statement has much to do with the creation vs. evolution debate. Those who are invested in the Theory of Evolution are always searching for evidence that will support their molecules-to-men version of reality.
The most essential ingredient in evolutionist’s recipe concerning carbon-based life forms is the presence of H2O. For decades, NASA has been searching the known universe for planets that contain this necessary ingredient for life. What does this have to do with Methane?
We are told that astronomers use a variety of techniques in their search for evidence of evolution. One of the ways they accomplish this is to look for the telltale signs of life. As we noted, water is an essential ingredient for the existence of life as we know it. Other substances are also connected to life and they are methane and carbon dioxide. Short of actually being able to test a piece of another planet such as a meteorite, astronomers use the science of spectroscopy to identify the composition of heavenly bodies. By using a variation of an instrument called a spectrometer, scientists are able to view what they want to analyze, i.e. a rock, cloud, planet or star, etc.), and spread the signal out into its corresponding components.
Most spectrometers use light to analyze the composition of planets, moons, stars, etc., because every element in the periodic table gives has its own identifiable light signature. This basic science of spectrometry is sound, but when it is used to evaluate the amount of a substance in outer space, it can be misleading. This takes us to the heart of the matter. Previous readings of the Martian landscape indicated Methane existed on Mars in a higher concentration than it turned out to be. Why is this important? Methane is the most abundant hydrocarbon in our solar system; it has one carbon atom bound to four hydrogen atoms in each molecule. Previous reports of localized methane concentrations up to 45 parts per billion on Mars sparked interest in the possibility of past or present biological activity. They were based on observations from Earth and from orbit around Mars. However, the measurements from Curiosity are not consistent with such concentrations, even if the methane had dispersed globally (Science Daily, 2013).
The search for extraterrestrial life has lead to numerous space probes being sent to neighboring planets. For a variety of reasons, one of the most promising candidates for the telltale signs of life has always been the red planet. The last of their space probes was the Mars rover Curiosity. Aside from searching for water, Curiosity was designed to look for other markers of Martian life. The lead author of the report concerning Curiosity’s search for Martian methane producing microorganisms, Chris Webster, noted:
It would have been exciting to find methane, but we have high confidence in our measurements, and the progress in expanding knowledge is what's really important. We measured repeatedly from Martian spring to late summer, but with no detection of methane (Science Daily, 2013).
This comes as no surprise to creationists, but proponents of the Theory of Evolution are scrambling to make sense of this finding. Sushil Atrevya (2013), of the University of Michigan and co-author of the new research, notes:
Scientists aren’t entirely sure how these previous observations ended up being so wildly different from Curiosity’s findings. There’s no way, as far as we know, in which methane could’ve quickly escaped the Martian atmosphere. Methane is persistent. It would last for hundreds of years in the Martian atmosphere. Without a way to take it out of the atmosphere quicker, our measurements indicate there cannot be much methane being put into the atmosphere by any mechanism, whether biology, geology, or by ultraviolet degradation of organics delivered by the fall of meteorites or interplanetary dust particles.
So the question of the missing methane continues to baffle those who are convinced that given the correct circumstances life can spontaneously appear. Astrobiologists continue to scour the universe for Goldilocks planets, e.g. earthlike planets that might be able to support life. Every time they think they have discovered the evidence of extraterrestrial life, they are sorely disappointed. Nevertheless, the search continues. The new discovery of the Mars rover Curiosity is the discovery of water in the soil of Mars.
In addition to water, Curiosity found sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and other materials; the sands of Mars also contain reactive chemical perchlorates (ABC News, 2013). What is somewhat disconcerting for the champions of extraterrestrial colonization is the presence of these toxic salts, known to exist on Mars since it was discovered at the Mars Phoenix lander site in 2008. Evolutionists spin this discovery in favor of extraterrestrial life, calling them a potential energy source for Marian microbes (David, 2013). The facts concerning perchlorates are different. Perchlorates are water-soluble, and they are considered toxic being designated as a contaminant with regard to drinking water by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, 2011). It is true that perchlorates, in very small amounts, are useful in the treatment of thyroid hyperactivity. Nevertheless, the levels Curiosity discovered of this same salt in significant quantities indicates that there is a substantial amount of the chemical contaminating most, if not all, of the Martian soil.
These men and women are dedicated evolutionists; therefore, they are looking for life in all the wrong places. Rather than turning their attention to the One who is the resurrection and the life, Jesus of Nazareth, like the ancient pantheists before them, they continue to worship the creation while denying the Creator.
ABC News (2013). NASA Curiosity rover finds 'surprising' amount of water in Mars soil analysis. ABC News online, Fri 27 Sep 2013. Accessed 9.26.13
Atrevya, Sushil (2013). The question of the missing methane (as cited in Sebastian Anthony, 2013) NASA’s Curiosity detects no methane on Mars, ruling out life on Mars. Extreme Tech online, Sep. 25, 2013. Accessed 9.25.13.
David, Leonard (2013). Has NASA's Curiosity Rover Found Clues to Life's Building Blocks on Mars? Space.com website, Sep. 27, 2013. Accessed 9.27.13.
EPA (2011). Fact Sheet: Final Regulatory Determination for Perchlorate. EPA PDF online. Accessed 9.27.13.
Srinivasan, A., &Viraraghavan, T. (2009). Perchlorate: Health Effects and Technologies for Its Removal from Water Resources. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2009 April; 6(4): 1418–1442.
Science Daily (2013). NASA Curiosity Rover Detects No Methane On Mars. Science Daily online, Sep. 22, 2013. Accessed 9.25.13.
Science Daily (2013). Ibid.