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Hints of Life

February 27, 2015

It’s clear that Mars was much warmer and wetter in the distant past. What’s not so clear is whether any living organisms ever basked in those comfy conditions. The Curiosity rover recently found organic compounds in a rock and bursts of methane in the atmosphere — both of which could be evidence of life. And pieces of the Red Planet continue to show intriguing signs of ancient microscopic life.

Those signs are found in meteorites — pieces of Mars that were blasted into space when large asteroids slammed into the planet, and that later found their way to Earth.

A couple of decades ago, a team of scientists reported evidence of ancient microscopic life in one of these rocks. But many other scientists discounted the findings. Even so, similar evidence has been reported in a few other meteorites over the years.

The most recent came in December. An international team found organic material in one meteorite that appears to have been produced by living organisms.

The meteorite fell in the desert of Morocco in 2011, and pieces of it were quickly recovered. Scientists found possible products of life inside cracks in one of the rocks. They ruled out the possibility that these organic compounds entered the rock after it hit Earth. The team says the most likely source is Martian life.

Mars is in pretty good view in the early evening sky right now. It’s low in the west as night falls, close to the lower right of Venus, the “evening star.”


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014

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