New meteorite clues to life on Mars

Scientists believe they may have found fresh evidence of life on Mars in a meteorite that crashed to Earth. Microscopic strands were revealed inside the space rock, labelled NWA 998, when it was examined at the University of Toronto, Canada.

The meteorite ALH84001The slice examined was from inside the meteorite, lessening the chance that the mysterious filaments could be due to geological contamination.

Experts say this means they could be produced by microbes that lived on Mars millions of years ago before the stone was blasted out of the martian surface by an asteroid impact.

It fell to Earth after aeons circling the Sun and was found lying in the Sahara Desert by nomadic tribesmen who sold it on to American meteorite hunters.

A member of the university team said: “If our x-ray microprobe analysis shows the strong presence of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and other atoms commonly found in organic compounds that have a biological origin but are nearly absent in the material around the filament-like structures, then our case that these are indeed Martians would be strengthened.”

Last year, a NASA team claimed they had photographed Martian organisms inside another meteorite that is kept in London’s Natural History Museum.

Their electron microscope showed a bumpy surface resembling a fossilised colony of microbacteria – a simple form of martian life. That meteorite was part of a shower that fell from the sky in Nakhla, Egypt, in 1911, killing a dog.

The team from NASA’s Johnson Space Centre examined the space rock to support their claims in 2006 that Martian bugs had been found in a meteorite, ALH84001, found in Antarctica.

Picture: The ALH84001 meteorite being examined in the laboratory. Credit: NASA.

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By Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. He writes regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy, plus he has authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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