Relic of life in that Martian meteorite? A fresh look

Mar 22, 2006
Spirit Mars Photo

Since the mid-1990s a great debate has raged over whether organic compounds and tiny globules of carbonate minerals imbedded in the Martian meteorite Allan Hills 84001 were processed by living creatures from the Red Planet. The materials have been under intense scrutiny ever since.

Scientists at the Carnegie Institution's Geophysical Laboratory, with colleagues, have taken a fresh look at how material associated with carbonate globules was created using sophisticated instrumentation and they compared the results to analogous globules from a volcanic complex on Svalbard, an island north of Norway. It does not appear that living organisms were at work.

To some, the tiny carbonate globules from the meteorite seem to resemble minerals that arise from microbial activity on Earth. The team focused on whether macromolecular carbon (MMC) in and around the globules was processed organically or not--an unresolved issue. The team had a complete depth profile of the meteorite. Lead author Andrew Steele explained, "By using micro-Raman spectroscopy and a scanning electron microscope we could detect both the structure of the minerals and the forms of carbon present. We did a similar analysis on carbonate globules from Earth in terrain analogous to Mars--the Bockjord Volcanic Complex on Svalbard--for comparison."

The researchers found that the macromolecular carbon is always associated with the mineral magnetite. This association is important because magnetite is known to act as a catalyst in the formation of MMC. Macromolecular carbon present within the carbonate globules in ALH84001 may represent the first evidence of non-biological synthesis of organic molecules on Mars.

"Although we haven't settled the debate on whether evidence of life is contained in Allan Hills, we have shown that these carbon complexes likely formed by non-biological processing on Mars," concluded Steele.

The research is presented at NASA's Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) 2006 in Washington, D.C. March 26-30. See http://abscicon2006.arc.nasa.gov/ for details.

Source: Carnegie Institution

Explore further: Video gives astronaut's-eye view inside NASA's Orion spacecraft

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Jellyfish flames on the ISS

Sep 11, 2014

Fire is inanimate, yet anyone staring into a flame could be excused for thinking otherwise: Fire dances and swirls. It reproduces, consumes matter, and produces waste. It adapts to its environment. It needs ...

Longer-lasting chemical catalysts

Jan 13, 2012

Metal-based chemical catalysts have excellent green chemistry credentials—in principle at least. In theory, catalysts are reusable because they drive chemical reactions without being consumed. In reality, ...

Recommended for you

SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

Dec 19, 2014

The sun emitted a mid-level flare on Dec. 18, 2014, at 4:58 p.m. EST. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts ...

Why is Venus so horrible?

Dec 19, 2014

Venus sucks. Seriously, it's the worst. The global temperature is as hot as an oven, the atmospheric pressure is 90 times Earth, and it rains sulfuric acid. Every part of the surface of Venus would kill you ...

Image: Christmas wrapping the Sentinel-3A antenna

Dec 19, 2014

The moment a team of technicians, gowned like hospital surgeons, wraps the Sentinel-3A radar altimeter in multilayer insulation to protect it from the temperature extremes found in Earth orbit.

Video: Flying over Becquerel

Dec 19, 2014

This latest release from the camera on ESA's Mars Express is a simulated flight over the Becquerel crater, showing large-scale deposits of sedimentary material.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.