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Study nixes Mars life in meteorite found in Antarctica

MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace WriterJan. 13, 2022Updated: Jan. 13, 2022 4:09 p.m. 1of6FILE – The meteorite labeled ALH84001 is held in the hand of a scientist at a Johnson Space Center lab in Houston, Aug. 7, 1996. Scientists say they’ve confirmed the meteorite from Mars contains no evidence of ancient Martian life. The rock caused a splash…

MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer

FILE - The meteorite labeled ALH84001 is held in the hand of a scientist at a Johnson Space Center lab in Houston, Aug. 7, 1996. Scientists say they've confirmed the meteorite from Mars contains no evidence of ancient Martian life. The rock caused a splash 25 years ago when a NASA-led team announced that its organic compounds may have been left by living creatures, however primitive. Researchers chipped away at that theory over the decades. A team of scientists led by Andrew Steele of the Carnegie Institution published their findings Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022.
1of6FILE – The meteorite labeled ALH84001 is held in the hand of a scientist at a Johnson Space Center lab in Houston, Aug. 7, 1996. Scientists have confirmed that the meteorite from Mars is free of evidence of ancient Martian life. The rock caused a splash 25 years ago when a NASA-led team announced that its organic compounds may have been left by living creatures, however primitive. Over the years, researchers worked to confirm this theory. A team of scientists led by Andrew Steele of the Carnegie Institution published their findings Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. DAVID J. PHILLIP/AP
The meteorite labeled ALH84001 sits in a chamber at a Johnson Space Center lab in Houston, Aug. 7, 1996. Scientists say they've confirmed the meteorite from Mars contains no evidence of ancient Martian life. The rock caused a splash 25 years ago when a NASA-led team announced that its organic compounds may have been left by living creatures, however primitive. Researchers chipped away at that theory over the decades. A team of scientists led by Andrew Steele of the Carnegie Institution published their findings Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022.
2of6The meteorite labeled ALH84001 sits in a chamber at a Johnson Space Center lab in Houston, Aug. 7, 1996. Scientists have confirmed that the meteorite from Mars is free of evidence of ancient Martian life. The rock caused a splash 25 years ago when a NASA-led team announced that its organic compounds may have been left by living creatures, however primitive. Over the years, researchers worked to confirm this theory. A team of scientists led by Andrew Steele of the Carnegie Institution published their findings Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. DAVID J. PHILLIP/AP
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This Feb. 10, 2021 image taken by the United Arab Emirates'
4of6This Feb. 10, 2021 image taken by the United Arab Emirates’ “Amal,” or “Hope,” probe released Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, shows Mars. Scientists have confirmed that the meteorite found on Mars is not evidence of ancient Martian life. The rock caused a splash 25 years ago when a NASA-led team announced that its organic compounds may have been left by living creatures, however primitive. Over the years, researchers worked to confirm this theory. A team of scientists led by Andrew Steele of the Carnegie Institution published their findings Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. (Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center/UAE Space Agency, via AP)Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center/AP
FILE- Mars rock Allan Hills 84001, discovered in 1984, is shown at a NASA news conference, Aug. 7, 1996, in Washington. Scientists say they've confirmed the meteorite from Mars contains no evidence of ancient Martian life. The rock caused a splash 25 years ago when a NASA-led team announced that its organic compounds may have been left by living creatures, however primitive. Researchers chipped away at that theory over the decades. A team of scientists led by Andrew Steele of the Carnegie Institution published their findings Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022.
5of6FILE- Mars rock Allan Hills 84001, discovered in 1984, is shown at a NASA news conference, Aug. 7, 1996, in Washington. Scientists have confirmed that the meteorite from Mars is free of evidence of Martian life. The rock caused a splash 25 years ago when a NASA-led team announced that its organic compounds may have been left by living creatures, however primitive. Over the years, researchers worked to confirm this theory. A team of scientists led by Andrew Steele of the Carnegie Institution published their findings Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. DOUG MILLS/AP
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A 4 billion-year-old meteorite from Mars that caused a splash here on Earth decades ago contains no evidence of ancient, primitive 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 by living creatures. Others were skeptical, and scientists continued to question the idea over the years. The most recent example was by Andrew Steele of the Carnegie Institution for Science.

Tiny samples taken from the meteorite reveal that the carbon-rich compounds were actually formed by water flowing over the rock, Steele stated. These findings are published in Science.

During Mars’ early and wet periods, at least two impactors struck the rock near it, heating its surrounding area, and then a third one bounced it off of the red planet, sending it into space millions years ago. The 4-pound (2-kilogram) rock was found in Antarctica in 1984.

Groundwater moving through the cracks in the rock, while it was still on Mars, formed the tiny globs of carbon that are present, according to the researchers. They said that the same thing could happen on Earth, which could explain why methane is present in Mars’ atmosphere.

Two scientists from the original study disagreed with the latest findings and called them “disappointing”. In a shared email, they said they stand by their 1996 observations.

” While the data presented incrementally increases our knowledge of (the meteorite), it is not novel nor supported by the research,” said Kathie ThomasKeprta, and Simon Clemett from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston.

” Unsupported speculation does not resolve the conundrum around the origin of organic material” in meteorite, they said.

According to Steele, technological advances made it possible for his team to discover new things.

He thanked the original researchers for their measurements and said that their life-claiming hypothesis was “a reasonable interpretation” at the moment. He stated that he and his team, which included NASA, German, and British scientists, took care to present the results “for what it is” and not as a proof of the original hypothesis.

This finding is “impressive for our understanding how life began on this planet” and “helps refine the techniques that we need to search elsewhere on Mars or Enceladus and Europa,” Steele stated in an email. He was referring to Jupiter and Saturn’s moons with subsurface seas.

The only way to determine whether Mars has or did not have microbial life is to send samples to Earth to be analysed. NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover has already collected six samples to return to Earth within a decade; more are needed.

Millions upon years of drifting through space, the meteorite crashed into Antarctica’s icefield thousands of years ago. The small gray-green fragment got its name — Allan Hills 84001 — from the hills where it was found.

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The Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education provides support to the Associated Press Health and Science Department. All content is the sole responsibility of the Associated Press.

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