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Water on Mars raises chance of Martian life
Article on more evidence fo life on Mars
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Nasa press release about meterite with evidence of life
Article #1 about the evidence of life on Mars
Article #2 about the evidence of life on Mars
The Man on Mars ?!?
METEORITE YIELDS EVIDENCE OF PRIMITIVE LIFE ON EARLY MARS
A NASA research team of scientists at the Johnson Space Center
(JSC), Houston, TX, and at Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, has
found evidence that strongly suggests primitive life may have existed
on Mars more than 3.6 billion years ago. The NASA-funded team found
the first organic molecules thought to be of Martian origin; several
mineral features characteristic of biological activity; and possible
microscopic fossils of primitive, bacteria-like organisms inside
of an ancient Martian rock that fell to Earth as a meteorite. This
array of indirect evidence of past life will be reported in the
August 16 issue of the journal Science, presenting the investigation
to the scientific community at large for further study. The
two-year investigation was co-led by JSC planetary scientists Dr.
David McKay, Dr. Everett Gibson and Kathie Thomas-Keprta of Lockheed-Martin,
with the major collaboration
of a Stanford team headed by Professor of Chemistry Dr. Richard Zare, as well as six other NASA and university
research partners. "There is not any one finding that leads us to believe that this is evidence of past life on Mars. Rather, it is a combination of many things that we have found," McKay said. "They include Stanford's detection of an apparently unique pattern of organic molecules, carbon compounds that are the basis of life. We also found several unusual mineral phases that are known products of primitive microscopic organisms on Earth. Structures that could be microsopic fossils seem to support all of this. The relationship of all of these things in terms of location - within a few hundred thousandths of an inch of one another - is the most compelling evidence." "It is very difficult to prove life existed 3.6 billion years ago on Earth, let alone on Mars," Zare said. "The existing standard of proof, which we think we have met, includes having an accurately dated sample that contains native microfossils, mineralogical features characteristic of life, and evidence of complex organic chemistry." "For two years, we have applied state-of-the-art technology to perform these analyses, and we believe we have found quite reasonable evidence of past life on Mars," Gibson added. "We don't claim that we have conclusively proven it. We are putting this evidence out to the scientific community for other investigators to verify, enhance, attack -- disprove if they can -- as part of the scientific process. Then, within a year or two, we hope to resolve the question one way or the other."
"What we have found to be the most reasonable interpretation is of such radical nature that it will only be
accepted or rejected after other groups either confirm our findings or overturn them," McKay added.
The igneous rock in the 4.2-pound, potato-sized meteorite has been age-dated to about 4.5 billion years, the
period when the planet Mars formed. The rock is believed to have originated underneath the Martian surface and to have been extensively fractured by impacts as meteorites bombarded the planets in the early inner solar system. Between 3.6 billion and 4 billion years ago, a time when it is generally thought that the planet was warmer and wetter, water is believed to have penetrated fractures in the subsurface rock, possibly forming an underground water system. Since the water was saturated with carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere, carbonate minerals were deposited in the fractures. The team's findings indicate living organisms also may have assisted in the formation of the carbonate, and some remains of the microscopic organisms may have become fossilized, in a fashion similar to the formation of fossils in limestone on Earth. Then, 16 million years ago, a huge comet or asteroid struck Mars, ejecting a piece of the rock from its subsurface location with enough force to escape the planet. For millions of years, the chunk of rock floated through space. It encountered Earth's atmosphere 13,000 years ago and fell in Antarctica as a meteorite. It is in the tiny globs of carbonate that the researchers found a number of features that can be interpreted as suggesting past life. Stanford researchers found easily detectable amounts of organic molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) concentrated in the vicinity of the carbonate. Researchers at JSC found mineral compounds commonly associated with microscopic organisms and the possible microscopic fossil structures.
The largest of the possible fossils are less than 1/100 the diameter of a human hair, and most are about 1/1000 the
diameter of a human hair - small enough that it would take about a thousand laid end-to-end to span the dot at the end of this sentence. Some are egg-shaped while others are tubular. In appearance and size, the structures are strikingly similar to microscopic fossils of the tiniest bacteria found on Earth.
The meteorite, called ALH84001, was found in 1984 in Allan Hills ice field, Antarctica, by an annual expedition of
the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Meteorite Program. It was preserved for study in JSC's Meteorite Processing Laboratory and its possible Martian origin was not recognized until 1993. It is one of only 12 meteorites identified so far that match the unique Martian chemistry measured by the Viking spacecraft that landed on Mars in 1976. ALH84001 is by far the oldest of the 12 Martian meteorites, more than three times as old as any other.
Many of the team's findings were made possible only because of very recent technological advances in high-
resolution scanning electron microscopy and laser mass spectrometry. Only a few years ago, many of the features that they report were undetectable. Although past studies of this meteorite and others of Martian origin failed to detect evidence of past life, they were generally performed using lower levels of magnification, without the benefit of the technology used in this research. The recent discovery of extremely small bacteria on Earth, called nanobacteria, prompted the team to perform this work at a much finer scale than past efforts.
The nine authors of the Science report include McKay, Gibson and Thomas-Keprta of JSC; Christopher Romanek, formerly a National Research Council post-doctoral fellow at JSC who is now a staff scientist at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory at the University of Georgia; Hojatollah Vali, a National Research Council post-doctoral fellow at JSC and a staff scientist at McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; and Zare, graduate students Simon J. Clemett and Claude R. Maechling and post-doctoral student Xavier Chillier of the Stanford University Department of Chemistry. The team of researchers includes a wide variety of expertise, including microbiology, mineralogy, analytical techniques, geochemistry and organic chemistry, and the analysis crossed all of these disciplines. Further details on the findings presented in the Science article include: * Researchers at Stanford University used a dual laser mass spectrometer -- the most sensitive instrument of its type in the world -- to look for the presence of the common family of organic molecules called PAHs. When microorganisms die, the complex organic molecules that they contain frequently degrade into PAHs. PAHs are often associated with ancient sedimentary rocks, coals and petroleum on Earth and can be common air pollutants. Not only did the scientists find PAHs in easily
detectable amounts in ALH84001, but they found that these molecules were concentrated in the vicinity of the carbonate globules. This finding appears consistent with the proposition that they are a result of the fossilization process. In addition, the unique composition of the meteorite's PAHs is consistent with what the scientists expect from the fossilization of very primitive microorganisms. On Earth, PAHs virtually always occur in thousands of forms, but, in the meteorite, they are dominated by only about a half-dozen different compounds. The simplicity of this mixture, combined with the lack of light- weight PAHs like napthalene, also differs substantially from that of PAHs previously measured in non-Martian meteorites. * The team found unusual compounds -- iron sulfides and
magnetite -- that can be produced by anaerobic bacteria and other microscopic organisms on Earth. The compounds were found in locations directly associated with the fossil-like structures and carbonate globules in the meteorite. Extreme conditions -- conditions very unlikely to have been encountered by the meteorite -- would have been required to produce these compounds in close proximity to one another if life were not involved. The carbonate also contained tiny grains of magnetite that are almost identical to magnetic fossil remnants often left by certain bacteria found on Earth. Other minerals commonly associated with biological activity on Earth were found in the carbonate as well. * The formation of the carbonate or fossils by living organisms while the meteorite was in the Antarctic was deemed unlikely for several reasons. The carbonate was age dated using a parent-daughter isotope method and found to be 3.6 billion years old, and the organic molecules were first detected well within the ancient carbonate. In addition, the team analyzed representative samples of other meteorites from Antarctica and found no evidence of fossil-like structures, organic molecules or possible biologically produced compounds and minerals similar to those in the ALH84001 meteorite. The composition and location of PAHs organic molecules found in the meteorite also appeared to confirm that the possible evidence of life was extraterrestrial. No PAHs were found in the meteorite's exterior crust, but the concentration of PAHs increased in the meteorite's interior to levels higher than
ever found in Antarctica. Higher concentrations of PAHs would have likely been found on the exterior of the meteorite, decreasing toward the interior, if the organic molecules are the result of contamination of the meteorite on Earth. Additional information may be obtained at 1 p.m. EDT via the Internet at http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/pao/flash/
Donald L. Savage
Headquarters, Washington, DC August 7, 1996
Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX
Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA
Thursday October 31 3:33 PM EST
LONDON (Reuter) - British astronomers said Thursday they had found evidence to back reports from U.S. space scientists that they had found traces of life in a meteorite from Mars.
They said samples from two separate Martian meteorites showed definite traces that could have been left by living organisms, and one was recent enough to indicate that there still could be life surviving somewhere on Mars.
"We have identified a second meteorite which appears to contain matter that we define as organic," Colin Pillinger, an astronomer at Britain's Open University, told a news conference.
Pillinger said his team had also taken a second look at a sample from the meteorite -- known as ALH84001 -- that the U.S. space agency NASA said contained traces of life.
That sample, he said, contained traces of a carbon isotope -- a variant of carbon -- that is often formed by microscopic life forms on Earth.
"These pieces don't actually say that there was definitively life on Mars, but they tend to redress the balance," Pillinger said.
He told the news conference there had been a lot of criticism of the NASA announcement and scientists wanted to make sure interest in the subject did not die out.
But when they re-examined old meteorites after NASA's announcement last summer, they were surprised at what they found.
NASA said tiny traces in its sample of ALH84001 could have been left by tiny bacteria. Studies published since then questioned that finding, some saying the little holes in the ancient Mars rock seemed to have been formed at temperatures too extreme for life to survive.
But Pillinger said his group's findings added weight to NASA's claim. The carbon isotope, carbon 12, is found in methane on Earth produced by tiny bacteria that live in places like cow's stomach's and rice paddy fields.
NASA's meteorite is believed to have been knocked off Mars by an asteroid and thrown into orbit 16 million years ago.
The second sample, known as EETA79001, is much younger and could be only 600,000 years old.
"This throws it into a time when life would have been teeming on Earth," Pillinger said.
"Geologically speaking this is sufficiently recent for there to be
a good chance that life might still exist in protected areas on our planetary
Copyright © 1996 Reuters Limited.
Thursday October 31 5:54 PM EST
UPI Science News
LONDON, Oct. 31 (UPI) _ Mars may have had life as recently as 600,000 years ago _ a sign that something might still be alive there _ said three scientists in the United Kingdom Thursday.
At a meeting of the Royal Society hosted by the U.K. minister of science, researchers presented new evidence to support the idea that meteorites from Mars show traces left by ancient life.
In August, NASA scientists had suggested that a potato-sized chunk of Mars picked up in Antarctica held traces of one-celled life at least 3.6 billion years old.
Now evidence of organic matter has turned up in a much younger meteorite and in further analysis of the first rock, said Ian Wright, Monica Grady and Colin Pillinger from Open University.
The second meteorite has up to 1,000 parts per million of organic matter that hitchhiked on the rock as it came from Mars instead of just smearing onto the surface when it crashed to Earth, said the researchers.
This second meteorite formed only 172 million to 177 million years ago, much later than the 4.5 billion-year-old rock NASA studied. Researchers have suggested that Martian microbes lived in groundwater that seeped through tiny cracks and pores in the rock, and might have been thriving until the rock left the planet. Previous studies concluded that the young meteorite shot into space some 600,000 years ago, perhaps when a huge rock slammed into the planet and kicked up debris.
This finding brings the possibility of Martian life much closer. The NASA team had estimated their traces were 3.6 billion years old.
The researchers also studied the same rock that NASA had examined. The ratio of carbon forms in the older meteorite matches the pattern of living microbes producing methane. That pattern can only be produced by something living, at least as far as Earth scientists have observed.
The researchers also pointed out that the pattern of components in the meteorite matched a pattern in organic matter in the Earth's oldest fossils.
``This is fairly strong supporting evidence,'' said NASA's Everett Gibson, from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, one of the NASA scientists who proposed the meteorites held traces left by ancient life. ``We're really quite pleased,'' he said.
He would not comment on whether the new evidence makes current life on Mars seem more likely. He did point out that if both meteorite analyses are right, life on Mars survived a long time.
Michael Meyer from NASA headquarters in Washington, a specialist in the search for life in space but not a member of either team of meteorite analysts, said the new announcement was stirring up considerable excitement in the planetary science community. The new evidence is ``pretty strong,'' he said. Finding traces that from such a young meteorite _ young at least in the eyes of astronomers _ raises hope for finding traces of life now. ``Six hundred thousand years ago? That's yesterday!'' Meyer said.
after the new evidence, ``I think you'd get people to bet there's life on Mars,'' Meyer said.
There is considerable interest in this unusual feature on the surface of Mars.
It was photographed during the NASA Viking mission to Mars, and NASA's official position is that it is probably a "natural" formation, created by simple wind erosion. Many investigators feel otherwise, including Richard Hoagland, who helped bring this to the public's attention.
He, and many others, have come to the conclusion that it must have been deliberately constructed (perhaps carved from a natural hill that was already there). The builders, if any, are unknown, but given the advanced alien presence we currently seem to be dealing with on our own planet, it may very well be that these same beings constructed this fascinating feature.
The object is approximately a mile long, from the chin to the top of the head. The eye sockets are nearly the size of a football field, and it rises 15 hundred feet above the flat suface of the Cydonia region of Mars. The black spot on the right side of the face is a reference mark in the image, not part of the feature itself. The dark area under the chin is a shadow being cast by the feature.
Computer analysis has shown it to be greater than 95% symmetrical, which makes it very unlikely that it is a naturally eroded formation. This symmetry means that the features on the right half of the "face" are 95% identical to the features on the left side, and the two sides are a mirror image (just as in a real face). Even the "hair" matches on each side.
The question is, if alien beings contructed this "face," what was
or is the purpose? One possibility is that it may have been intended as
a "sign" for humanity to find, when we were able: one more clue that there
are "other intelligences out there." Some people have pointed out that
this is similar in concept to the strange monolith found on the moon in
the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Evidence of Life in Meteorites
Friday, 19 March, 7:12 p.m.
H O U S T O N (AP)
THE SAME NASA team that says it found microbial life in a Martian meteor now claim two other meteors contain similar fossilized remnants.
What appear to be bacteria are contained in two meteorites believed to be from Mars, according to a team led by Johnson Space Center geologist David S. McKay, who presented his findings Thursday at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.
The NASA team's latest findings, made within the past six months, were from samples of a 1.3 billion-year-old meteorite that fell to Earth in 1911 near Nakhla, Egypt, and a 165 million-year-old meteorite that fell near Shergotty, India, in 1865.
"My own opinion is that these will turn out to be true micro-fossils from Mars," McKay said. "We're not counting on getting many converts. All we ask, though, is that people keep an open mind."
The scientist was one of the researchers who in August 1996 announced the discovery of tiny fossilized structures in crevices of a 4 billion-year-old Mars meteorite found in the Allan Hills region of Antarctica in 1984.
For the past three years, rival researchers and other scientists
have debated the significance of the NASA team's earlier findings from
Mars. Independent analyses of the Mars rock have failed to yield absolute
evidence that the potato-sized chunk ever contained life.
PASADENA, Calif. (Reuters) - The Mars Odyssey spacecraft has identified what appear to be large areas of ice on the red planet's surface, a discovery (news - web sites) that could prove key to the search for life there, U.S. space scientists said on Friday,
Odyssey, which began mapping the Martian surface last week, used a suite of gamma ray spectrometer instruments to detect significant amounts of hydrogen near the planet's south pole, which scientists said are most likely due to the presence of ice formed from water.
"We're not looking at just surface frost, there's really a lot of ice," said William Boynton, professor at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory said during a press conference at NASA (news - web sites)'s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Earlier missions to Mars by NASA's Viking Orbiter and Global Surveyor spacecraft have previously suggested that ice might be found on the red planet and scientists have concluded that water once flowed there, creating deep canyons and other geologic features that can still be seen.
But the findings by Odyssey, which was launched in April of 2001 and arrived in Mars orbit in October, could provide the first real proof of ice still formed on the surface.
"We're delighted with the quality of the data we're seeing," Stephen Saunders, Odyssey project scientist, said. "We'll use it to build on what we've learned from Mars Global Surveyor and other missions. Now we may actually see water rather than guessing where it is or was."
Scientists said preliminary assessment of the data suggest the presence of hydrogen in the upper few feet of the Martian surface in an area about 400 miles across.
"If you were an astronaut walking around on the surface of Mars you could kick the ground and see ice crystals," Boynton said. "You could melt it and have water."
Boynton said scientists were excited about the discovery because the presence of water ice suggests water, and water suggests life on Mars.
"It's really because we need to understand what happened to all the water that made these canyons and where that water went," he said. "We want to understand the climate of the planet and its changes."
Boynton said scientists have several theories to explain what happened to the water that once flowed on Mars, with most believing that the planet was formerly much warmer.
"Mars is really a very, very rich environment," he said. "It's not the dead planet that we might have been taught that it was in high school."