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Alan Hills Meteorite.  Credit: NASA

New Findings On Allen Hills Meteorite Point to Microbial Life

25 Nov , 2009

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Scientists caused quite a stir in 1996 when they announced a meteorite had been found in Antarctica that might contain evidence for microscopic fossils of Martian bacteria. While subsequent studies of the now famous Allen Hills Meteorite shot down theories that the Mars rock held fossilized alien life, both sides debated the issue and the meteorite is still being studied. Now, Craig Covault in Spaceflightnow.com reports that a new look at ALH84001 provides “evidence that supports the existence of life on the surface of Mars, or in subsurface water pools, early in the planet’s history.” Covault says we can expect a public announcement by NASA Headquarters within a few days.

Research using a more advanced High Resolution Electron Microscopy than was in existence when the initial findings were made 13 years ago has provided the new evidence. Covault reported that the “laboratory sensors are being focused directly on carbonate discs and associated tiny magnetite crystals present inside the meteorite Allen Hills ALH 84001.” The data reveal information that counters a “wide range of opposing theories as to why the finding should not be supported as biological in origin.”

The new findings were reported in the November issue of the respected journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, the journal of the Geochemical and Meteoritic Society. The authors include Kathie Thomas-Keprta, Simon Clement, David McKay (who led the original team), Everett Gibson and Susan Wentworth, all of the Johnson Space Center.

Covault said the new work centers on what is called magnetic bacteria that on Earth, and Mars as well, leave distinctively-shaped remnants in the rock. These features test with a high chemical purity more like a biological feature than geological.

For more details, read the article on Spaceflightnow.com

Exciting! Stay tuned…

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Ivan3man_At_Large
Member
Ivan3man_At_Large
November 25, 2009 9:36 AM

[Sarcasm]
Magnetic bacteria? That can only mean ELECTRIC BACTERIA!!!1!11!! Because only ELECTRIC CURRENTS can produce a MAGNETIC FIELD!!!1!11!! And electromagnetism is 10^39 times stronger than gravity!!!1!!1!!
[/Sarcasm]

Savino
Member
Savino
November 25, 2009 11:20 AM

How much a positive result can improve a tripulated mission to mars?

Kawarthajon
Member
Kawarthajon
November 25, 2009 11:50 AM

The article in Spaceflight Now mentions that the rock sample with the alleged bacteria is 4 billion years old and was a part of the original crust of Mars. Doesn’t that seem a little early for life to form? I certainly don’t know much about this topic, but what a major discovery if it’s true!! To think that the martian bacteria were very similar to our own is also a mind boggler!

TD
Member
TD
November 25, 2009 12:58 PM

Kawarthajon – Life arose early on Earth too, and and a straghtforward possibility for the similarity of Mars life and Earth life were that the life was exchanged by one of the panspermia (or transpermia) theories. This is a very exciting time.

Aqua4U
Member
November 25, 2009 1:00 PM

Very interesting! Turn up the WOW factor to the end of the spectrum on this one!

Scenario: A Martian volcanic tube, with a volcanic mud spring bubbling up out of a deep fracture… Got critters?

Olaf
Member
Olaf
November 25, 2009 4:04 PM

@ IVAN3MAN
You mean that all gravity in the Universe originates from electric bacteria through a z-pinch? LOL

Richard Kirk
Member
Richard Kirk
November 26, 2009 6:58 AM
Warning: don’t get too excited, folks. It may look like they have found a wiggly worm on a Mars rock. There are plenty of ordinary crystallization processes that can make shapes like this. Ordinary white asbestos gives little bent fibers. The rock has been around for billions of years, and a lot can happen in that time. Don’t get me worong: there is nothing wrong with as much of the paper as I can read. The authors have been quite thorough. They have distinguished between some known processes that make shapes like this on earth. They have carbonates, and those have (probably) always been there rather than soaked in while on Earth. They seem to have done a… Read more »
Jon Hanford
Member
Jon Hanford
November 26, 2009 9:39 AM

@ Richard Kirk, thanks for elaborating on just how this new work relates to the original (disputed) findings published back in 2001. I was curious as to what new info on ‘magnetic bacteria’ now points to a biological origin. I managed to find a brief presentation of the new work by Thomas-Keprta et.al. ( http://meetingorganizer.copernicus.org/EPSC2009/EPSC2009-318.pdf ) that gives more detail about the recent paper in ScienceDirect. I agree with your ‘don’t get too excited’ stance. Interesting but not ‘proof’ of biological processes.

@ IVAN3MAN, you forgot the crucial z-pinch and double layers. Tsk, tsk smile

Kawarthajon
Member
Kawarthajon
November 26, 2009 11:36 AM

Thanks for the interesting comments TD. The article said that the rock floated around for 16 million years. Do you really think that Bacteria could have lasted that long in space and still have been viable to start life on a new planet or moon?

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
November 26, 2009 12:27 PM
Well, this layman didn’t find the paper as electrifying as he could wish for. That said, I think the people working on this seem good. They have a fossil study approach, either from the start or because specialists have communicated concerns, so they use a massive set of predictions to test for instead of narrow characters. They seem technical competent. [Disclaimer: layman here.] And here they again tested parts of their set of hypotheses, against competitive thermal models for the magnetite crystals found. No falsification seen, and as opposed to viewpoints in comments above in such a test unknown alternate theories don’t count, so score one hat trick for the home team. My dissatisfaction comes from two sources.… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
November 26, 2009 12:54 PM
It may look like they have found a wiggly worm on a Mars rock. There are plenty of ordinary crystallization processes that can make shapes like this. Ordinary white asbestos gives little bent fibers. Eh? That wasn’t the paper I found. They looked on magnetites, not narrow characters of unknown origin. Magnetite crystals on Earth can be from both chemical and biological origin, but the later are a discernible population and are, AFAIU, reliably known as fossils. As I noted above, falsification tests as they did here doesn’t involve unknown alternates. It is enough to against a null hypothesis at worst to see if one can reject an erroneous theory. So they achieved what they wanted. Nitpick: It’s… Read more »
Olaf
Member
Olaf
November 26, 2009 3:50 PM

@Richard Kirk
I agree even though it seems promising, it is not yet proof of real life. But it could give us a clue what to search for when we return to Mars.

Then again it is also nice to dream a bit that we finally did find life on Mars.

Manu
Member
Manu
November 27, 2009 7:14 AM

“a public announcement by NASA Headquarters” ?
Exit science, welcome PR (in support of manned space programs. Grrr).

As in 1996, this will make headlines; then if and when other studies account for a non-bio explanation, it won’t.

Ah, well.

TD
Member
TD
November 27, 2009 11:05 AM
Kawarthajon – do I think bacteria or other microbial spores could survive 16 million years – I don’t know but it does seem unlikely. But, whatever I think, it would need to be studied. The point you’ve sort of assumed is that all other microbe-carrying meteors also took 16 million years to make the Earth-Mars trip. Others could have made trip much more quickly – and for starting life – it only takes one. It interesting to watch the scientific game of ping-pong continue for the answer to the question “Is there life on Mars”. I would like to reassure all those “scientists” who don’t want it found – nobody in the overall population cares anymore. The scientific… Read more »
Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
November 27, 2009 11:39 AM
Life on Mars has its episodes. Back in 1976 of course the Vikings found a chemical reaction which at least resembles life. Some doubts were raised though, so the results were deemed inconclusive. It is my understanding there is a chance that life was indeed detected. The 1980s saw a nadir in Mars exploration, and then in 1996 it swung up with the ALH84001 meteoroid find and the Sojourner minirover. Now Mars is a “hot” planet, hot in terms of science, cold in climate, for the time being. Mars appears to have freeze-dried up about a billion years after its formation. So conditions may well have been right for the pre-biotic chemistry leading to the development of living… Read more »
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