Saturday, December 05, 2009

"Life on Mars" Hypothesis Given New Life

It looks like the life on Mars hypothesis has been given new life.

Not a long time ago, in a universe not far away -- speaking in geological and astronomical terms, of course -- a meteorite, called ALH84001 was blasted from the surface of a dusty read planet, Mars, 16 million years ago. Then, after a really L-O-N-G side trip, it eventually lands on Earth at about 11,000 BC. Finally, one of those naked primates that wander about looking for trouble (a scientist) happened to stumble upon it while tooling around Antarctica in 1984.

Back in 1996 a formal announcement was made after extended study. But there was some debate whether what was claimed to be bacteria fossils could really be so for life forms on such a small scale. "The structures found on ALH 84001 are 20-100 nanometres in diameter, similar in size to the theoretical nanobacteria, but smaller than any known cellular life at the time of their discovery."[1] The worry was that something that small could not contain RNA, the most basic, albeit primitive structure required for life (as we know it). But this worry seems to have been alleviated, because microbiologists have since been able to produce such microorganisms in the laboratory.[2] Also, new developments in high-resolution scanning electron microscopes have allowed better imaging of the meteorite than was available back in 1996, and the images are even more convincing.

All of this is consistent with an announcement by NASA scientists in early 2009 that large quantities of Methane in the atmosphere were highly suggestive of some sort of on-going microbiological activity on that planet:
Their findings, published [...] in the journal Science, show that 19,000 tonnes of methane were released in high concentrations over three specific areas in Mars's western hemisphere. The emissions occurred over a short period in summer 2003. "This raises the probability substantially that life was there or still survives at the present," study author Michael Mumma of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center said. "We think the probability is much higher now based on this evidence[....] By 2006, most of the methane had disappeared from the Martian atmosphere, adding to the mystery of the gas"[3]
Although Methane can be produced by volcanoes working in conjunction with other geological phenomenon, there is no evidence of any active volcanoes on Mars.


[image] Recently released by NASA.

[1] "Allan Hills 84001" Wikipedia (Accesed Dec 5, 2009)

[2] Monica Bruckner "Nanobacteria and Nanobes- Are They Alive?" Carleton College Site (Accessed Dec 5, 2009)

[3] "Methane on Mars suggests possible life, NASA scientists say" CBC News (Acessed Dec 5, 2009)


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