Media contacts:Lynn Simarski National Science Foundation(703) 306-1070/[email protected]
Don SavageNASA Headquarters(202) 358-1547
Program contact:Scott Borg(703) 306-1033/[email protected]
NEW STUDIES OF MARTIAN METEORITE LAUNCHED
The National Science Foundation has awarded grants for sevennew projects to study Martian meteorite ALH84001 in greaterdepth. The grants are part of a coordinated program with NASA tofurther investigate possible traces of ancient life in theMartian rock.
After the announcement last August that the meteorite mayHarbor fossils of ancient Martian life, NSF and NASA called forfurther research into the evidence. The agencies set up acoordinated, interdisciplinary program which included jointreview of research proposals. NASA announced on June 19 that ithad awarded 16 individual grants under the program.
NSF's seven new grants, totaling nearly $800,000 forprojects over two or three years, will use advancedinstrumentation to further analyze the provocative rock. Someprojects will study ALH84001 itself. Others willinvestigate analogous features in terrestrial rocks fromenvironments that may resemble those of ancient Mars--hot springsand other extreme habitats of earthbound microbes--to provide abetter context for understanding the tiny structures in theMartian rock.
Meteorite ALH84001 is one of about 8,000 meteoritescollected in Antarctica by U.S. researchers. NSF is the leadagency for managing the collection and distribution of Antarcticmeteorites, done in collaboration with NASA and the SmithsonianInstitution. Samples of ALH84001 are being sent to theresearchers from the Antarctic Meteorite Laboratory at NASA'sJohnson Space Center in Houston. The samples, typically only afew grams apiece, are handled similarly to the lunar samplescollected during the Apollo program.
The new research will include scanning the meteorite forextremely fine-scale alteration of the mineral interface bymicrobes. Other studies will focus on the meteorite's carbonisotopes to see if they reflect a ratio typical of microbiallife, and develop a chemical method to fingerprint biologicalactivity in meteorites using different isotopes of iron, some ofwhich may be taken up preferentially by living organisms.
Still other projects will look at mineral particles--oxidesand sulfides of iron--with potential as "biomarkers" (signs ofpast life) both in the Martian meteorite and in bacteria onEarth. Some researchers will attempt to: fix the temperature andfluid composition under which the meteorite's minerals formed,presently an area of controversy; develop thermodynamic modelsfor mineral alteration in hydrothermal environments; anddelineate the rock's temperature history and its pastinfiltration by fluids.
Institutions receiving the grants are the University ofWisconsin-Madison, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee,California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, IowaState University, Arizona State University, University ofMinnesota, University of California-Santa Cruz, University ofHawaii, Washington University in St. Louis, and the CaliforniaInstitute of Technology.
Editors: For further details on the new grants, contact ScottBorg, NSF polar earth sciences program manager, at 703-306-1033,or by e-mail at: [email protected]
The above story is based on materials provided by National Science Foundation. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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