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Ammonia in atmosphere hints of Mars life
PARIS, (UPI) July 15 , 2004 -

Ammonia may have been found in the atmosphere of Mars, which some scientists say could indicate life on the planet, BBC News Online reported Thursday.

Scientists at the European Space Agency said its Mars Express orbiting spacecraft's instruments have acquired the chemical signature of ammonia, which can survive for only a short time in the atmosphere without dissipating completely. Therefore, it must be getting constantly replenished, they said.

The two possible sources are either active volcanoes, none of which have been found yet on Mars, or microbes.

Vittorio Formisano, principal investigator for the instrument, is expected to release details of new findings at an international conference being held next week in Paris. Although Mars Express has been in orbit around Mars since December 2003, scientists have so far only analyzed a fraction of the data.

The detection of ammonia comes just a few months after methane was found in the Martian atmosphere. Methane is another gas hinting strongly of a biological origin.

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