There Is A Way To Find Fossils Of Martian Life

There Is A Way To Find Fossils Of Martian Life.

On August 7, 1996, reporters, photographers and television camera operators surged into NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. The crowd focused not on the row of seated scientists in NASA’s auditorium but on a small, clear plastic box on the table in front of them. Inside the box was a velvet pillow, and nestled on it like a crown jewel was a rock—from Mars. The scientists announced that they’d found signs of life inside the meteorite. NASA administrator Daniel Goldin gleefully said it was an “unbelievable” day. He was more accurate than he knew. The rock, the researchers explained, had formed 4.5 billion years ago on Mars, where it remained until 16 million years ago, when it was launched into space, probably by the impact of an asteroid. The rock wandered the inner solar system until 13,000 years ago, when it fell to Antarctica. It sat on the ice near AllanHills until 1984, when snowmobiling geologists scooped it up.

Scientists headed by David McKay of the JohnsonSpaceCenter in Houston found that the rock, called ALH84001, had a peculiar chemical makeup. It contained a combination of minerals and carbon compounds that on Earth are created by microbes. It also had crystals of magnetic iron oxide, called magnetite, which some bacteria produce. Moreover, McKay presented to the crowd an electron microscope view of the rock showing chains of globules that bore a striking resemblance to chains that some bacteria form on Earth. “We believe that these are indeed microfossils from Mars,” McKay said, adding that the evidence wasn’t “absolute proof” of past Martian life but rather “pointers in that direction.”

Credit: NASA

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