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Life on Mars - new claims

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  • Jeroen Kumeling
    Tuesday, March 2, 1999 Published at 18:31 GMT Life on Mars - new claims By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse Sensational new claims about life
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      Tuesday, March 2, 1999 Published at 18:31 GMT

      Life on Mars - new claims

      By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

      Sensational new claims about life on Mars are about to be made by US
      scientists.

      Some of the researchers who claimed in 1996 to have found evidence for past
      life in a Martian meteorite now say they have further evidence to support
      their theories in one, possibly two, other rocks.

      They will reveal their findings at a forthcoming conference in America. The
      announcement will once again arouse great controversy in the scientific
      community, which was far from convinced by the 1996 evidence.

      The new evidence comes from a study of the so-called Nakhla meteorite that
      fell at Nakhla, Egypt, in 1911.

      It broke up into many pieces. Years later, a detailed analysis of the rock
      revealed it to be one of only 13 known meteorites from the planet Mars.

      It is estimated to be about 1.37 billion years old and was thrown into
      space when a giant asteroid slammed into Mars hundreds of millions of years
      ago.

      After millions of years in space, it fell to Earth in 1911.

      Rounded particles

      Examination of the Nakhla meteorite, using an optical and a more powerful
      scanning electron microscope (SEM), by a team from NASA's Johnson Space
      Center led by Dr David McKay, has revealed rounded particles of a limited
      size range.

      The researchers suggest that these structures are the mineralised remnants
      of bacteria that once lived on Mars. They say that their size is similar to
      bacteria found on Earth.


      Looking closely at the alleged fossilised bacterial colonies, the
      scientists say they are reminded of microbes undergoing the process of
      division. One of the structures may even have an extension like a fibril
      sometimes seen in Earth bacteria.

      They even go onto to say that they believe the Nakhla meteorite may have
      been colonised by two generations of bacteria.

      They add that another of the meteorites from Mars, a rock called Shergotty,
      may also contain the bacterial fossils.

      For most scientists, though, curious and minute shapes in meteorites are
      not enough to make them believe that bacteria once lived on Mars.

      They say it is all too easy to be fooled by the shapes of mineral grains,
      especially if viewed with an eye looking for organic shapes.
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