RPI professor, director helps unlock secrets of Mars meteorite

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The Allan Hills 84001 meteorite courtesy of NASA/JSC/Stanford University.

The Allan Hills 84001 meteorite courtesy of NASA/JSC/Stanford University.

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)-Mysteries surrounding a 4-billion-year-old Martian meteorite found in the Antarctic in 1984 have finally been answered with new research. The organic material found in the meteorite indicates an interaction between water and rocks on Mars.

The meteorite, Allan Hills (ALH) 84001, has stirred up debate since it was discovered about its origin and is thought to be one of the oldest projectiles on Earth to come from Mars. This new research could help researchers answer questions about life on ancient Mars and questions about ancient Earth as well.

“These results allow us to explore the types of environments – on Mars, early Earth, and potentially on bodies throughout the solar system – that could facilitate the formation of organic molecules necessary for life’s origins,” said Co-author, Professor, and RPI’s Director of the Rensselaer Astrobiology Research and Education Center, Karyn Rogers who helped interpret mineral data for the meteorite.

“Rensselaer has a long history of research leadership concerning planetary conditions and chemical mechanisms conducive to the emergence of life on prebiotic Earth,” said RPI’s Dean of the School of Science, Curt M. Breneman.  “These new meteorite results address a long-standing mystery about the origin of carbon-based organic compounds on Mars.”

“These kinds of non-biological, geological reactions are responsible for a pool of organic carbon compounds from which life could have evolved and represent a background signal that must be taken into consideration when searching for evidence of past life on Mars,” said Dr. Andrew Steele, an astrobiologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science.

Steele led the research team including researchers from NASA Johnson Space Center, NASA Ames Research Center, Carnegie Institute for Science, and RPI. They were also joined by researchers from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences and the Free University of Berlin to decode organic material in the ALH 84001 meteorite.

“The search for life on Mars is not just an attempt to answer the question ‘are we alone?’,” Steele said. “It also relates to early Earth environments and addresses the question of ‘where did we come from?’”

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