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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:

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

Updated 31 mins ago - World

Mexican President López Obrador tests positive for coronavirus

Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during a press conference at National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, on Wednesday. Photo: Ismael Rosas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced Sunday evening that he's tested positive for COVID-19.

Driving the news: López Obrador tweeted that he has mild symptoms and is receiving medical treatment. "As always, I am optimistic," he added. "We will all move forward."

46 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor of Arkansas

Sarah Huckabee Sanders at FOX News' studios in New York City in 2019. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will announce Monday that she's running for governor of Arkansas.

The big picture: Sanders was touted as a contender after it was announced she was leaving the Trump administration in June 2019. Then-President Trump tweeted he hoped she would run for governor, adding "she would be fantastic." Sanders is "seen as leader in the polls" in the Republican state, notes the Washington Post's Josh Dawsey, who first reported the news.

Coronavirus has inflamed global inequality

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

History will likely remember the pandemic as the "first time since records began that inequality rose in virtually every country on earth at the same time." That's the verdict from Oxfam's inequality report covering the year 2020 — a terrible year that hit the poorest, hardest across the planet.

Why it matters: The world's poorest were already in a race against time, facing down an existential risk in the form of global climate change. The coronavirus pandemic could set global poverty reduction back as much as a full decade, according to the World Bank.