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Here are four different ways chemists use to show a molecule of methane. In the colored molecule models, carbon is light gray and hydrogen is white.
Click on image for full size
Windows to the Universe original artwork by Randy Russell.

Methane - CH4

Methane is a kind of gas. There is a small amount of methane in the air you breathe. A methane molecule has carbon and hydrogen atoms in it.

Methane is a greenhouse gas. That means it helps make Earth warm. But if there was too much methane, that could make our planet too warm.

Where does the methane in Earth's atmosphere come from? Cow burps, for one place! Farming rice also puts methane into the air. Some methane also comes from garbage dumps. Termites make lots of methane, too. Swamps also make methane.

Methane can burn. It is used as a fuel. It is one of the main gases in natural gas. The heat in your home might be from natural gas. Methane is called a hydrocarbon because it has hydrogen and carbon atoms in it.

Last modified February 8, 2006 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF