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Ancient meteorite may point to life on Mars   [New Window]
'Biggest discovery in the history of science'
August 7, 1996 - Web posted at: 1:15 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- NASA announced Wednesday that a primitive form of microscopic life may have existed on Mars about 4 billion years ago.

A U.S. space probe is on its way to the red planet to try to start answering those and other questions about Mars. The Global Surveyor will map the entire Martian surface and is expected to produce a spectacular mosaic of the planet.

The Federation of American Scientists is a nonprofit, tax-exempt, 501c3 organization founded in 1945 as the Federation of Atomic Scientists. Our founders were members of the Manhattan Project, creators of the atom bomb and deeply concerned about the implications of its use for the future of humankind.

In 1997, Biospherics' President and CEO, Dr. Gilbert V. Levin, announced his new conclusion that his 1976 Viking Labeled Release (LR) life detection experiment found living microorganisms in the soil of Mars.

Objective application of the scientific process to 21 years of continued research and to new developments on Mars and Earth forced this conclusion. Of all the many hypotheses offered over the years to explain the LR Mars results, the only possibility fitting all the relevant data is that microbial life exists in the top layer of the Martian surface.

A team of scientists recently announced that they believe they have found evidence for ancient microbacterial life in a chunk of meteorite that came from the planet Mars. The startling news would be the first discovery of any form of life off the Earth. It could revolutionize our thoughts on the probability of life arising elsewhere in our solar system and the universe beyond, especially in the light of recent news about planetlike bodies detected around other stars.

Search for Past Life on Mars:    [New Window]
Possible Relic Biogenic Activity in Martian Meteorite ALH84001

A long and very technical page.
A long-standing debate over the possibility of present-day life on Mars was addressed by the Viking lander experiments in 1976. Although the results were generally interpreted to be negative for life in the tested surface soils, the possibility of life at other locations on Mars could not be ruled out (1). The Viking lander's mass spectrometry experiments failed to confirm the existence of organics for the martian surface samples analyzed. Furthermore, the Viking results contained no information on possible fossils. Another source of information about possible ancient martian life is the Shergotty-Nakhla-Chassigny (SNC) class of meteorites, which appear to have come to the Earth by impact events on Mars (2, 3). We have examined ALH84001, collected in Antarctica and recently recognized as a meteorite from Mars (4). Our objective was to look for signs of past (fossil) life within the pore space or secondary minerals of this martian meteorite. Our task is difficult because we only have a small piece of rock from Mars and we are searching for martian biomarkers on the basis of what we know about life on Earth. Therefore, if there is a martian biomarker, we may not be able to recognize it, unless it is similar to an earthly biomarker. Additionally, no information is available on the geologic context of this rock on Mars.

NASA scientists and engineers are testing new technologies using a K9 rover in a newly built Marscape test facility in preparation for future missions to Mars.

Testing is being conducted at NASA Ames Research Center in Californias Silicon Valley in a 3/4-acre Marscape that has been designed to resemble the terrain on Mars.

Mars Team Online   [New Window]
For teachers and students.

In 1996 NASA launched two missions to Mars. The Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft took off in November and reached the orbit of Mars on September 11, 1997 to begin an orbital mission that will provide detailed mapping and weather information. The Mars Pathfinder spacecraft blasted away in December and landed on the Red Planet on July 4, 1997. The micro-rover Sojourner has wandered its way around the Martian terrain, returning a wealth of new science data.