Planetary scientists monitoring Mars through the newly arrived Mars Express orbiter are reporting the presence of methane in the martian atmosphere.

If true, either the planet is releasing methane trapped since its formation, perhaps through previously undetected volcanic eruptions or hot springs, or there is life on Mars.

The reported detection of methane is based on early observations by the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS) onboard Mars Express. The instrument is run by Vittorio Formisano of the Institute of Physics and Interplanetary Space in Rome and his team.

The PFS records the infrared radiation emitted by molecules of atmospheric gas; each molecule emits at a combination of wavelengths unique to its structure.

At a press conference in Paris held earlier this month, Formisano reported finding spectral emissions of methane around a wavelength of 3.3 micrometers. “We have seen…

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