Thursday, December 03, 2009

Nasa announces New Study adds to findings of life on ancient mars

As outlined in the previous post,Nasa has announced the findings of Thomas-Keprta et al 2009.

Johnson Space Center, Houston

RELEASE : J09-030

New Study Adds to Finding of Ancient Life Signs in Mars Meteorite

HOUSTON — Using more advanced analytical instruments now available, a Johnson Space Center research team has reexamined the 1996 finding that a meteorite contains strong evidence that life may have existed on ancient Mars.

The new research focused on investigating alternate proposals for the creation of materials thought to be signs of ancient life found in the meteorite. The new study argues that ancient life remains the most plausible explanation for the materials and structures found in the meteorite.

In 1996, a group of scientists led by David McKay, Everett Gibson and Kathie Thomas-Keprta of NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston published an article in Science announcing the discovery of biogenic evidence in the ALH84001 meteorite. A newly published paper revisits that original hypothesis with new analyses. The paper, “Origin of Magnetite Nanocrystals in Martian Meteorite ALH84001,” by Thomas-Keprta and coauthors Simon Clemett, McKay, Gibson and Susan Wentworth, all scientists in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate at JSC, is in the November issue of the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta of The Geochemical Society and The Meteoritical Society.

Magnetite crystals in ALH84001 have been a focus of debate about the possibility of life on Mars. Magnetite is an iron-bearing, magnetic mineral. On Earth, some water and soil bacteria secrete the mineral within their cells. The 1996 study suggested that some magnetite crystals associated with carbonate globules in ALH84001 are biogenic because they share many characteristics with those found in bacteria on Earth. Other scientists have argued instead that the magnetite in ALH84001 was likely caused by inorganic processes, and that those same processes can be recreated artificially in the laboratory by heating carbonates in a process known as thermal decomposition, forming magnetite identical to that found in the Mars meteorite.

In this new study, the JSC research team reassessed the leading alternative non-biologic hypothesis that heating or shock decomposition produced the magnetites. The authors argue that their new results do not support the heating hypothesis for the formation of the magnetites. They conclude that the biogenic explanation is a more viable hypothesis for the origin of the magnetites.

“In this study, we interpret our results to suggest that the in situ inorganic hypotheses are inconsistent with the data, and thus infer that the biogenic hypothesis is still a viable explanation,” said lead author Thomas-Keprta, senior scientist for Barrios Technology at JSC.

“We believe that the biogenic hypothesis is stronger now than when we first proposed it 13 years ago,” said Gibson, NASA senior scientist.

There are full links to the paper and a review paper in the links above and here

In addition to the new paper on ALH84001, the JSC team has published a paper that identifies shapes or morphologies in Martian meteorites that resemble known microfossil and microbial shapes in samples from Earth. These new shapes, seen with a scanning electron microscope, are termed biomorphs because of their close resemblance to known, biologically produced features on Earth.

The morphology seems consistent with a biological origin,such as seen in hydrothermal vents such as thermophiles,which exudate high acidic residues,this will be a lively debate.


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