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Photo: NASA/JPL-CALTECH/MSSS /HANDOUT/Getty Images

NASA’s Curiosity rover has detected a large burst of methane gas on Mars, possibly indicating microbes are at work on the red planet, reports the New York Times.

Why it matters: If this methane is actually being belched out by microbes on Mars, it would be a paradigm shifting discovery, showing that life exists elsewhere in the universe. But we have a long way to go before assuming the reading from Curiosity means proof of life on Mars.

The big picture: If confirmed, this wouldn't be the first time Curiosity has detected methane on Mars either. The rover also monitored a spike of the gas in 2013, and other spacecraft have detected methane in the Martian atmosphere. Geological processes can also account for methane on Earth and potentially on the red planet.

Details: Per the Times: "In a measurement taken on Wednesday, NASA’s Curiosity rover discovered startlingly high amounts of methane in the Martian air, a gas that on Earth is usually produced by living things. The data arrived back on Earth on Thursday, and by Friday, scientists working on the mission were excitedly discussing the news, which has not yet been announced by NASA."

  • NASA responded to the story on Saturday, urging caution:
A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

Yes, but: It’s important to meet this report with a healthy dose of measured optimism.

  • Scientists are still working to take more measurements that will either bolster or diminish this initial finding.
  • The discovery also has yet to go through peer review — the scientific process by which these claims are verified and eventually published — so it’s best to take it all with a grain of salt, at least for now.

Go deeper

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

First look: The LCV's $4M ad buy

A screenshot from a new League of Conservation Voters ad supporting Rep. Stephanie Murphy.

The League of Conservation Voters and Climate Power are aiming another $4 million worth of ads at centrist House Democrats, urging them to support the climate provisions in President Biden’s $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Progressive groups are trying to counter the onslaught of conservative money pouring into swing districts. Both sides are trying to define Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda and pressure lawmakers to support — or oppose — the legislation scheduled for a vote in the House this week.

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Shutdown Plan B

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Senate will hold a futile vote Monday night — just 72 hours before a potential shutdown — on a House-passed bill to fund the government through Dec. 3 and raise the debt limit.

Why it matters: The bill is going to fail. Period. But then comes Plan B: A "clean" continuing resolution — stripped of language about raising the debt limit — that Democrats spent the past week preparing, Axios is told.

Glenn Youngkin's play: Forever- and Never-Trumpers

Glenn Youngkin in Harrisonburg, Virginia, on Friday. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Standing on a flatbed hitched to a John Deere tractor in red Rockingham County, Virginia, Glenn Youngkin decried California liberalism and bashed his rival, Terry McAuliffe. He also encouraged early voting. Two words he avoided: Donald Trump.

Driving the news: Youngkin, the Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee, is mounting a serious challenge to McAuliffe — a former governor and veteran of Democratic politics. Axios caught up with him on Friday in Harrisonburg, Virginia.