Life on Mars? Scientists believe carbon in Martian meteorite has biological origin

Carbon in a Martian meteorite that fell to Earth four years ago probably has a biological origin, researchers have said, suggesting life on Mars is more likely than previously thought.

A team of scientists from the EPFL’s Earth and Planetary Sciences Laboratory have come to the conclusion that the carbon inside the rock could have been deposited by fluid that was rich in organic matter, while it was still on the planet.

They hope it will further the debate on whether there was life on Mars.

The meteorite fell to Earth in Morocco in 2011 after completing the long journey from Mars. It is only one of five Martian rocks that has been seen to fall to Earth.

Tissint was thrown from the red planet after an asteroid crashed on to its surface, around 700,000 years ago.

Previously, another team looking at the meteorite said that it contains evidence of water weathering on the planet’s surface.

The team proposed that liquids, which contained organic compounds of biological origin, infiltrated the rock the meteorite came from while at low temperatures near the planet’s surface.

They disagreed with another previous study that the organic compounds inside came from the crystallization of magma.

Philippe Gillet, the head of the lab, said: “In this rock many fractures are present and they are willed with carbon-rich matter and this was a subject of the collaborative work we have carried out with our Japanese and Chinese colleagues.”

Several research teams have previously agreed that the component inside the rock is organic.

“The debate is intense whether this organic matter is the result of biological activity or not. Our favourite explanation is that it could be associated with a biological process until now we do not see any other possible explanation, but of course we remain open for any other mechanism that would explain the measurement.

“Another exciting outcome of our study is the discovery of the first Martian diamonds they formed at the expense of the organic matter I just described and are the result of the impact of an asteroid on the surface of Mars a few billion years ago.”

However Gillet isn’t putting all his rocks in one basket.

“Insisting on certainty is unwise, particularly on such a sensitive topic,” warns Gillet.

“I’m completely open to the possibility that other studies might contradict our findings. However, our conclusions are such that they will rekindle the debate as to the possible existence of biological activity on Mars – at least in the past.”

Featured image courtesy of EPFL’s Earth and Planetary Sciences Laboratory

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