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The Question

(Submitted December 23, 1996)

Has evidence been found for life on Mars?

The Answer

We are a center for research in high-energy astrophysics and have no institutional experience in the search for life in Mars (though back in 1976 I was a student intern with the Viking Project at JPL!). There is a lot of very good material available on the Internet concerning the recent discoveries within Martian meteorites of possible evidence for past life on Mars. A good starting point is:

  • http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/snc/ which has links for each Martian meteorite, as well as to the various current Mars missions and many news stories concerning the recent discoveries.
Although each piece of evidence (morphological, mineralogical, chemical and isotopic) presented so far can be explained by non-biological as well as biological processes, their presence in close proximity to each other, and in two quite different Martian meteorites (the old ALH84001 and the much younger EETA79001) makes further investigation a clear priority. The two NASA spacecraft now on route to Mars - Mars Pathfinder and Mars Global Surveyor - will prepare the way for future sample return missions. In the meantime, a lot of work can be done using the Martian meteorites already available.

As of October, 1998, the evidence against microfossils in AH84001 is now even stronger, with the discovery that some lunar meteorites have objects similar to the 'microfossils' found in the Martian meteorite.

Details can be found off the JPL Mars Meteorite Home Page at: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/snc/

Best wishes,
Paul Butterworth
Imagine the Universe!

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