Mars is a dead planet? NASA begs to delay, but meteorite found on Earth proves it

A 4 billion-year-old Mars meteorite that splashed here on Earth decades ago contains no evidence of ancient, early Martian life after all, scientists reported Thursday. In 1996, a NASA-led team announced that organic compounds in the rock appeared to have been left behind by living creatures. Other scientists were skeptical, and researchers have challenged that premise over the decades, most recently by a team led by Andrew Steele of the Carnegie Institution for Science.

Tiny samples from the meteorite show that the carbon-rich compounds are actually the result of water — likely salt or brackish water — flowing over the rock for an extended period of time, Steele said. The results appear in the journal Science.

During Mars’ wet and early past, at least two impacts occurred near the rock, heating the planet’s surrounding surface, before a third impact caused it to bounce back to the Red Planet and into space there. millions of years ago. The 4-pound (2-kilogram) rock was discovered in Antarctica in 1984.

Groundwater moving through cracks in the rock while it was still on Mars formed the tiny balls of carbon that are there, the researchers say. The same can happen on Earth and could help explain the presence of methane in Mars’ atmosphere, they said.

But two scientists who took part in the original study disputed these latest findings, calling them “disappointing”. In a shared email, they said they stand by their 1996 observations.

“While the data presented incrementally adds to our knowledge of (the meteorite), the interpretation is not new, nor supported by research,” wrote Kathie Thomas-Keprta and Simon Clemett, astromaterials researchers at Johnson Space Center. from NASA in Houston.

“Unsubstantiated speculation does nothing to solve the riddle surrounding the origin of the organic matter” in the meteorite, they added.

According to Steele, advances in technology have made his team’s new discoveries possible.

He praised the original researchers’ measurements and noted that their survival hypothesis “was a reasonable interpretation” at the time. He said he and his team – which includes NASA, German and British scientists – had been careful to present their results “for what they are, which is a very exciting discovery on Mars and not a study to refute “the original premise.

This discovery “is huge for our understanding of how life began on this planet and helps refine the techniques we need to find life elsewhere on Mars, or Enceladus and Europa,” Steele said in an email. mail, referring to the moons of Saturn and Jupiter with subterranean oceans. .

According to Steele, the only way to prove whether Mars once had or still has microbial life is to bring samples to Earth for analysis. NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has already collected six samples to return to Earth in about ten years; three dozen samples are desired.

Millions of years after drifting through space, the meteorite landed on an ice field in Antarctica thousands of years ago. The small grey-green fragment takes its name – Allan Hills 84001 – from the hills where it was found.

Just this week, a piece of this meteorite was used in a one-of-a-kind experiment aboard the International Space Station. A mini scanning electron microscope examined the sample; Thomas-Keprta operated it remotely from Houston. Researchers hope to use the microscope to analyze geological samples in space — on the moon one day, for example — and debris that could damage station equipment or endanger astronauts.

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