Mars may finally be showing signs that life exists in the Red Planet.

According to a report by The New York Times, new measurements taken by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity show unusual amounts of methane gas in the Martian atmosphere. Back here on Earth, methane often signals the existence of living microbes.

The report shows that the new measurements arrived late last week yet NASA is still to announce the findings. “Given this surprising result, we’ve reorganized the weekend to run a follow-up experiment,”  Ashwin R. Vasavada, project scientist of the mission, told the project’s science team via email. The e-mail is said to have been obtained by The Times.

To get more information regarding Mars’ methane content, the controllers based on Earth have sent new instructions to the rover last Friday. The new instructions aim to further explain the result of the initial readings. The team expects the new reading to arrive early this week.  

Methane gas is usually a byproduct of microbes called methanogens which survive in rocks found deep underground in Earth and even in digestive tracts of animals. Methane can also be produced via geothermal reactions so some reports say that the Curiosity rover might have just encountered a small packet of methane gas. 

In Mars, scientists believe that methane gas that was discovered in ancient gas that has been trapped back when the planet was still young and that it has escaped through the rocks.

However, based on last week’s discovery, the amount of methane gas in Mars’ atmosphere could have been produced by living microbes. The report said that the Red Planet’s atmosphere is so thin that sunlight and other chemical reactions could have easily broken up the gas. So new methane detected is presumed to be new or have been recently released.

“To maintain scientific integrity, the project science team will continue to analyze the data before confirming results,” the project’s spokesperson said.

Methane on Mars was first detected more than a decade ago via the Mars Express, an orbiting spacecraft by the European Space Agency. The early figures were not conclusive, however, and some scientists believe that there was actually no methane detected.

When NASA’s Curiosity arrived in 2012, it was able to record methane gas that measured one part per billion in the atmosphere - too little to be significant. In 2013, it was able to record a sudden spike of seven in one billion but the gas eventually ebbed away.

In the new findings, the measurement is 21 part per billion, three times the time when the methane gas spiked in 2013.

mars An image of Mars' Nili Fossae region taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Photo: NASA/Christopher Kremer/Brown University