Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

NASA scientists find evidence of water in meteorite, reviving debate over life on Mars

Date:
February 28, 2014
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
A team of scientists has found evidence of past water movement throughout a Martian meteorite, reviving debate in the scientific community over life on Mars. In 1996, a group of scientists reported biogenic evidence in the Allan Hills 84001(ALH84001) meteorite. In this new study, researchers focused on structures deep within a 30-pound (13.7-kilogram) Martian meteorite known as Yamato 000593 (Y000593). The team reports that newly discovered different structures and compositional features within the larger Yamato meteorite suggest biological processes might have been at work on Mars hundreds of millions of years ago.

This scanning electron microscope image of a polished thin section of a meteorite from Mars shows tunnels and curved microtunnels.
Credit: NASA

A team of scientists at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has found evidence of past water movement throughout a Martian meteorite, reviving debate in the scientific community over life on Mars.

In 1996, a group of scientists at Johnson led by David McKay, Everett Gibson and Kathie Thomas-Keprta published an article in Science announcing the discovery of biogenic evidence in the Allan Hills 84001(ALH84001) meteorite. In this new study, Gibson and his colleagues focused on structures deep within a 30-pound (13.7-kilogram) Martian meteorite known as Yamato 000593 (Y000593). The team reports that newly discovered different structures and compositional features within the larger Yamato meteorite suggest biological processes might have been at work on Mars hundreds of millions of years ago.

The team's findings have been published in the February issue of the journal Astrobiology. The lead author, Lauren White, is based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Co-authors are Gibson, Thomas-Keprta, Simon Clemett and McKay, all based at Johnson. McKay, who led the team that studied the ALH84001 meteorite, died a year ago.

"While robotic missions to Mars continue to shed light on the planet's history, the only samples from Mars available for study on Earth are Martian meteorites," said White. "On Earth, we can utilize multiple analytical techniques to take a more in-depth look into meteorites and shed light on the history of Mars. These samples offer clues to the past habitability of this planet. As more Martian meteorites are discovered, continued research focusing on these samples collectively will offer deeper insight into attributes which are indigenous to ancient Mars. Furthermore, as these meteorite studies are compared to present day robotic observations on Mars, the mysteries of the planet's seemingly wetter past will be revealed."

Analyses found that the rock was formed about 1.3 billion years ago from a lava flow on Mars. Around 12 million years ago, an impact occurred on Mars which ejected the meteorite from the surface of Mars. The meteorite traveled through space until it fell in Antarctica about 50,000 years ago.

The rock was found on the Yamato Glacier in Antarctica by the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition in 2000. The meteorite was classified as a nakhlite, a subgroup of Martian meteorites. Martian meteoritic material is distinguished from other meteorites and materials from Earth and the moon by the composition of the oxygen atoms within the silicate minerals and trapped Martian atmospheric gases.

The team found two distinctive sets of features associated with Martian-derived clay. They found tunnel and micro-tunnel structures that thread their way throughout Yamato 000593. The observed micro-tunnels display curved, undulating shapes consistent with bio-alteration textures observed in terrestrial basaltic glasses, previously reported by researchers who study interactions of bacteria with basaltic materials on Earth.

The second set of features consists of nanometer- to-micrometer-sized spherules that are sandwiched between layers within the rock and are distinct from carbonate and the underlying silicate layer. Similar spherical features have been previously seen in the Martian meteorite Nakhla that fell in 1911 in Egypt. Composition measurements of the Y000593 spherules show that they are significantly enriched in carbon compared to the nearby surrounding iddingsite layers.

A striking observation is that these two sets of features in Y000593, recovered from Antarctica after about 50,000 years residence time, are similar to features found in Nakhla, an observed fall collected shortly after landing.

The authors note that they cannot exclude the possibility that the carbon-rich regions in both sets of features may be the product of abiotic mechanisms: however, textural and compositional similarities to features in terrestrial samples, which have been interpreted as biogenic, imply the intriguing possibility that the Martian features were formed by biotic activity.

"The unique features displayed within the Martian meteorite Yamato 000593 are evidence of aqueous alterations as seen in the clay minerals and the presence of carbonaceous matter associated with the clay phases which show that Mars has been a very active body in its past," said Gibson. "The planet is revealing the presence of an active water reservoir that may also have a significant carbon component.

"The nature and distribution of Martian carbon is one of the major goals of the Mars Exploration Program. Since we have found indigenous carbon in several Mars meteorites, we cannot overstate the importance of having Martian samples available to study in earth-based laboratories. Furthermore, the small sizes of the carbonaceous features within the Yamato 000593 meteorite present major challenges to any analyses attempted by remote techniques on Mars," Gibson added.

"This is no smoking gun," said JPL's White. "We can never eliminate the possibility of contamination in any meteorite. But these features are nonetheless interesting and show that further studies of these meteorites should continue."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. Lauren M. White, Everett K. Gibson, Kathie L. Thomas-Keprta, Simon J. Clemett, David S. McKay. Putative Indigenous Carbon-Bearing Alteration Features in Martian Meteorite Yamato 000593. Astrobiology, 2014; 14 (2): 170 DOI: 10.1089/ast.2011.0733
  2. D. S. McKay, E. K. Gibson, K. L. Thomas-Keprta, H. Vali, C. S. Romanek, S. J. Clemett, X. D. F. Chillier, C. R. Maechling, R. N. Zare. Search for Past Life on Mars: Possible Relic Biogenic Activity in Martian Meteorite ALH84001. Science, 1996; 273 (5277): 924 DOI: 10.1126/science.273.5277.924

Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "NASA scientists find evidence of water in meteorite, reviving debate over life on Mars." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140228103206.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2014, February 28). NASA scientists find evidence of water in meteorite, reviving debate over life on Mars. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140228103206.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "NASA scientists find evidence of water in meteorite, reviving debate over life on Mars." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140228103206.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Creative Makeovers for Ugly Cellphone Towers

Creative Makeovers for Ugly Cellphone Towers

AP (July 24, 2014) Mobile phone companies and communities across the country are going to new lengths to disguise those unsightly cellphone towers. From a church bell tower to a flagpole, even a pencil, some towers are trying to make a point. (July 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Observation Boat to Protect Cetaceans During Ship Transfer

Observation Boat to Protect Cetaceans During Ship Transfer

AFP (July 22, 2014) As part of the 14-ship convoy that will accompany the Costa Concordia from the port of Giglio to the port of Genoa, there will be a boat carrying experts to look out for dolphins and whales from crossing the path of the Concordia. Duration: 01:02 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts

New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts

AP (July 21, 2014) New Orleans is the first U.S. city to participate in a large-scale recycling effort for cigarette butts. The city is rolling out dozens of containers for smokers to use when they discard their butts. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

AP (July 21, 2014) A rise in shark sightings along the shores of Chatham, Massachusetts is driving a surge of eager vacationers to the beach town looking to catch a glimpse of a great white. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins