Finding new species on Earth is one thing, but Carl Zimmer at The Loom is covering what could be the biggest story of the young year.

Frankly, if I were Michael Mumma, I’d be going nuts right now. The NASA scientist and his colleagues have either found evidence of life on Mars, or are getting fooled by some weird geochemistry.

The researchers today today are reporting that in 2003 and 2006, they recorded plumes of methane rising from the surface of the Red Planet

It’s coming out of Mars at the same rate seen at methane-producing spots on Earth.

Those places on Earth happen to be places where microbes are churning the gas out. There might be other ways of getting plumes of methane into the air–generating it from magma, for example. But in a paper published today by Science, Mumma and his colleagues point to the possibility that microbes buried a mile or two under the surface of Mars might be responsible.

Zimmer’s post includes coverage of a press conference held today at NASA. Check it out for the details.

Now it’s possible that this could turn out to be a false sign of some kind, but these guys don’t publish papers and hold press conferences unless they think they’ve got their facts in order. If they’re right, our view of life in the universe has just changed, dramatically.