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Remember When Mars Was Going To Land?

Today, now that we can reach Mars, we hope for mere fossils of bacteria

Sadly, the Mars meteorite, favored in recent years, has showed no evidence of life

Whether there has ever been life on Mars is a different question from what the specifically meteorite shows (we would need to search the whole planet to be sure about life).

But here is some recent disappointing news about the meteorite:

Organic molecules found in a meteorite that hurtled to Earth from Mars were synthesized during interactions between water and rocks that occurred on the Red Planet about 4 billion years ago, according to new analysis led by Carnegie’s Andrew Steele and published by Science.

The meteorite, called Allan Hills (ALH) 84001, was discovered in the Antarctic in 1984 and is considered one of the oldest known projectiles to reach Earth from Mars.

“Analyzing the origin of the meteorite’s minerals can serve as a window to reveal both the geochemical processes occurring early in Earth’s history and Mars’ potential for habitability,” explained Steele, who has done extensive research on organic material in Martian meteorites and is a member of both the Perseverance and Curiosity rovers’ science teams.

Organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen, and sometimes include oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, and other elements. Organic compounds are commonly associated with life, although they can be created by non-biological processes as well, which are referred to as abiotic organic chemistry.

Carnegie Institute for Science, “Martian meteorite’s organic materials origin not biological, formed by geochemical interactions between water and rock” at Phys.org (January 13, 2022)

Background from Creation-Evolution Headlines

The Allan Hills Meteorite #84001 caused a sensation in 1996 when David McKay and other NASA scientists thought they found fossilized microbes in it. NASA convened a highly-publicized press conference. They tantalized the world with what looked like worm-like creatures in the rock – evidence that convinced many that Mars once had living organisms (1 March 2014).

Shortly after this media whirlwind, NASA formed its Astrobiology Institute, and received funding to search for evidence of life beyond the Earth. The new name indicated a shift from an earlier term “exobiology” and also distanced itself from SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Evidence for simple organisms, astrobiologists reasoned, would be sufficient to prove that life could arise naturally, with the presumption unstated that once established, it could evolve all the way up to intelligent aliens wanting to communicate with us (12 Aug 2016). Evidence for microbial life would be the camel’s nose in the tent to bring in all the fruits of naturalistic science. (January 13, 2022)

Gizmodo agrees but offers a qualifier:

The scientists behind the 1996 study aren’t impressed with the new paper, as The Guardian reports. They say it offers nothing new and that the interpretation isn’t supported by any evidence, adding that “[u]nsupported speculation does nothing to resolve the conundrum surrounding the origin of organic matter” in the meteorite.

So the debate rages on. But this single rock won’t answer the question as to whether life once existed, or still exists, on Mars. For that, our best current option is a sample return mission, which thankfully is already underway. NASA’s Perseverance rover is currently collecting and depositing surface samples for a future mission to bring to Earth, possibly in the early 2030s.

Organic matter? Does anyone remember Mars Attacks! from the last century?

and then, a spoof, much later:

Today, now that we can actually reach Mars, we hope for mere fossils of bacteria.

The human imagination is a far greater territory, it turns out, than mere space.

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Remember When Mars Was Going To Land?