Saturday, November 28, 2009

ALH 84001 Discovery or Diversion ?

Nasa is to announce on Monday the 30th November "evidence of life on Mars" by reanalysis of the Antarctic Meteor ALH 84001.

Wiki gives us a general outline.

Allan Hills 84001 (commonly abbreviated ALH 84001[1]) is a meteorite that was found in Allan Hills, Antarctica on December 27, 1984 by a team of US meteorite hunters from the ANSMET project. Like other members of the group of SNCs (shergottite, nakhlite, chassignite), ALH 84001 is thought to be from Mars. On discovery, its mass was 1.93 kg. It made its way into headlines worldwide in 1996 when scientists announced that it might contain evidence for microscopic fossils of Martian bacteria.

The Times has a hyped story on this.

Nasa scientists have produced the most compelling evidence yet that bacterial life exists on Mars.

It showed that microscopic worm-like structures found in a Martian meteorite that hit the Earth 13,000 years ago are almost certainly fossilised bacteria. The so-called bio-morphs are embedded beneath the surface layers of the rock, suggesting that they were already present when the meteorite arrived, rather than being the result of subsequent contamination by Earthly bacteria.

“This is very strong evidence of life on Mars,” said David Mackay, a senior scientist at the Nasa Johnson Space Centre , who was part of the team of scientists that originally investigated the meteorite when it was discovered in 1984.

In a 1996 study of the sample, Dr Mackay and others argued that the microfossils were evidence of life, but sceptics dismissed the claims, saying that similar-shaped structures might not be biological. The new analyses, the product of high resolution electron microscopy, make a strong case for the Allan Hills 84001 Meteorite having carried Martian life to Earth. The microscopes were focused on tiny magnetite crystals present in the surface layers of the meteorite, which have the form of simple bacteria. Some argued that these could be the result of a carbonate breaking down in the heat of the impact.

The abstract of the paper reads.

The Martian meteorite ALH84001 preserves evidence of interaction with aqueous fluids while on Mars in the form of microscopic carbonate disks. These carbonate disks are believed to have precipitated 3.9 Ga ago at beginning of the Noachian epoch on Mars during which both the oldest extant Martian surfaces were formed, and perhaps the earliest global oceans. Intimately associated within and throughout these carbonate disks are nanocrystal magnetites (Fe3O4) with unusual chemical and physical properties, whose origins have become the source of considerable debate. One group of hypotheses argues that these magnetites are the product of partial thermal decomposition of the host carbonate. Alternatively, the origins of magnetite and carbonate may be unrelated; that is, from the perspective of the carbonate the magnetite is allochthonous. For example, the magnetites might have already been present in the aqueous fluids from which the carbonates were believed to have been deposited. We have sought to resolve between these hypotheses through the detailed characterization of the compositional and structural relationships of the carbonate disks and associated magnetites with the orthopyroxene matrix in which they are embedded. Extensive use of focused ion beam milling techniques has been utilized for sample preparation. We then compared our observations with those from experimental thermal decomposition studies of sideritic carbonates under a range of plausible geological heating scenarios. We conclude that the vast majority of the nanocrystal magnetites present in the carbonate disks could not have formed by any of the currently proposed thermal decomposition scenarios. Instead, we find there is considerable evidence in support of an alternative allochthonous origin for the magnetite unrelated to any shock or thermal processing of the carbonates.

This suggests an ecological connection in so far as geological process seem to be eliminated.The paper has been online since June,and one might wonder if this is a 'good news" balance of the climategate problem.


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