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Skip the meteorite middleman – shop direct from the Martian factory 10 March, 2011

Posted by Simon Nickerson in Uncategorized.
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Just one more meteorite comment (I promise!) – back when I was analysing the ALH84001 controversy, I speculated about some ways that the controversy could be resolved. My first thought was that the discovery of more Martian meteorites like ALH84001 would settle it one way or another, but later I realised that the broader question about life on Mars could be resolved in several different ways , including a manned mission to Mars or a robotic mission to return samples of the Martian surface to earth.

Well, it turns out that the American planetary science community have thought about this too. In their 10 year strategy paper, which outlines which planetary missions should receive funding over the next 10 years, they have chosen a Mars sample return mission as the highest priority. In particular, the report states:

It is now possible to select a site on Mars from which to collect samples that will address the question of whether the planet was ever an abode of life. The rocks from Mars that we have on Earth in the form of meteorites cannot provide an answer to this question. They are igneous rocks, whereas recent spacecraft observations have shown the occurrence on Mars of chemical sedimentary rocks of aqueous origin, and rocks that have been aqueously altered. It is these materials, none of which are found in meteorites, that provide the opportunity to study aqueous environments, potential prebiotic chemistry, and perhaps, the remains of early martian life.

And that is not a positive message for those who are looking at meteorites for signs of Martian life!

Tomorrow – an analysis of the ESP controversy.

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