Mars Meteorite Debate Continues
New Study Adds to Finding of Ancient Life Signs in Mars Meteorite
The new research focused on investigating alternate proposals for the creation of materials thought to be signs of ancient life found in the meteorite. The new study argues that ancient life remains the most plausible explanation for the materials and structures found in the meteorite.
In 1996, a group of scientists led by David McKay, Everett Gibson and Kathie Thomas-Keprta of NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston published an article in Science announcing the discovery of biogenic evidence in the ALH84001 meteorite. A newly published paper revisits that original hypothesis with new analyses. The paper, “Origin of Magnetite Nanocrystals in Martian Meteorite ALH84001,” by Thomas-Keprta and coauthors Simon Clemett, McKay, Gibson and Susan Wentworth, all scientists in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate at JSC, is in the November issue of the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta of The Geochemical Society and The Meteoritical Society.
In this new study, the JSC research team reassessed the leading alternative non-biologic hypothesis that heating or shock decomposition produced the magnetites. The authors argue that their new results do not support the heating hypothesis for the formation of the magnetites. They conclude that the biogenic explanation is a more viable hypothesis for the origin of the magnetites.
“In this study, we interpret our results to suggest that the in situ inorganic hypotheses are inconsistent with the data, and thus infer that the biogenic hypothesis is still a viable explanation,” said lead author Thomas-Keprta, senior scientist for Barrios Technology at JSC.
In addition to the new paper on ALH84001, the JSC team has published a paper that identifies shapes or morphologies in Martian meteorites that resemble known microfossil and microbial shapes in samples from Earth. These new shapes, seen with a scanning electron microscope, are termed biomorphs because of their close resemblance to known, biologically produced features on Earth. The biomorphs observed in the meteorites will be the focus of the JSC team with more detailed studies, including chemical and isotopic analyses.
“The evidence supporting the possibility of past life on Mars has been slowly building up during the past decade,” said McKay, NASA chief scientist for exploration and astrobiology, JSC. “This evidence includes signs of past surface water including remains of rivers, lakes and possibly oceans, signs of current water near or at the surface, water-derived deposits of clay minerals and carbonates in old terrain, and the recent release of methane into the Martian atmosphere, a finding that may have several explanations, including the presence of microbial life, the main source of methane on Earth."
To view the two papers, imagery and associated materials on the Internet, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/johnson/home/mars_meteorite.html