Meteorites suggest Martian life

The topic of countless science fiction movies and novels as been the prospect of life on Mars. Now, a newly discovered Martian meteorite sheds light on the planet’s past.


Looking at the barren surface of Mars, it is hard to imagine tiny organisms living on the planet. The secret to life on Mars, however, may lie in its very distant past. (photo courtesy of NASA)

According to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA website, biogenic evidence on Mars was announced for the first time after analysis of the Allan Hills 84001 meteorite in 1996. In February, a group of scientists at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California have discovered evidence from another meteorite, the Yamato 000593, to suggest that biological functions may have once occurred on the Martian world hundreds of millions of years ago.

“I think that this information is really cool because if Mars could support life then, it could support life again,” says Celeste Borg ‘16.

The scientists found two distinct features in the meteorite. One feature was tunnels and micro-tunnels that show signs of curved shapes consistent with those of bio-alteration patterns from bacteria living in basaltic glass on Earth. The other feature was tiny spheres that are separate from the surrounding carbonate and silicate layers that have significant amounts of carbon compared with the surrounding layers.

“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. The planet is revealing the presence of an active water reservoir that may also have a significant carbon component,” says Everett Gibson, a member of the research team that analyzed the Allan Hills and Yamato meteorites, on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory website.

Although the new evidence discovered from the Yamato meteorite isn’t definitive proof of life on Mars, it is a starting point. With patterns and characteristics of the structures inside of the meteorite, it looks as though biological life may have existed on Mars, if only to the point of microscopic, single-celled organisms. The questions that these revelations raise could mean a definitive shift in how scientists evaluate the origins of life and the possibility that humans aren’t the only ones out there in the universe after all. What was once the topic of science fiction would thereafter be a topic of science “fact.”

“I think that if we discovered life on Mars, it would be very cool and would change the way we think about life and space,” says Amanda Carmichael ‘16.

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