Life On Mars: Meteorite Contains Traces Of Organic Matter, Scientists Say

A meteorite that fell to Earth in 2011 exhibits small fissures that contain carbon of likely biological origin, according to scientists, a development that may prove life once existed on Mars.

According to the Daily Mail, the Tissint meteorite reached Earth on July 18, 2011. Landing in the Moroccan desert, the meteorite was ejected from Mars when an asteroid crashed into the Red Planet some 700,000 years ago, sending debris hurtling through space. It is only the fifth meteorite from Mars to be observed crashing to Earth by eyewitnesses, and the first since 1962. As the Inquisitr previously noted, a piece of the meteorite was part of a 2012 auction in New York, but failed to sell.

The Tissint meteorite was found to be full of tiny fissures, into which carbon had been deposited. A 2012 study of the meteorite proposed that the carbon may have been generated by magma crystallizing at high temperature while still on Mars. Other studies, however, have agreed that it very likely had a biological origin.

Dr. Philippe Gillet, director of EPFL’s Earth and Planetary Sciences Laboratory, conducted a detailed examination of the Tissint meteorite, along with colleagues from China, Japan, and Germany. The researchers observed signs that carbon was carried into the fissures on the meteorite by water, a quality never before observed in rocks from Mars. They assert that this water would have been rich in organic matter, flowing near the surface of Mars at low temperature.

Here is the Tissint Mars meteorite @NHM_London found in 2011: their largest Mars meteorite: mind=blown!

— Louise O’Rourke (@mrsfandomlife) May 9, 2013

“So far, there is no other theory that we find more compelling,” Dr. Gillet noted.

As CNET observes, debate has always revolved around whether the carbon was deposited before or after the Martian rock landed on Earth. Gillet’s team pointed to several pieces of evidence in their assertion that the organic carbon is of extraterrestrial origin.

The team noted the short timeframe between when the meteorite landed and its collection, as well as observing that the temperatures and shock needed to open the fissures necessarily occurred before impact. The carbon also contains high levels of deuterium, heavy hydrogen with one proton and one neutron in its nucleus, a known fingerprint of geology on Mars.

Most interestingly, some of the carbon grains inside the Martian meteor had hardened into diamond, a process that could not have occurred under known conditions in the desert and which suggests that the carbon was present before the meteor landed.

Researchers caution that they cannot yet entirely exclude the possibility the carbon may be physical in origin and devoid of life. Gillet notes that he believes the team’s findings will once again rekindle the debate over whether life once existed on Mars.

[Image: Alain Herzog via the Daily Mail]