Meteorite Nakhla suggests proof of life on Mars

Nakhla is 1.3 billion years old.

By Dileep Thekkethil

BANGALORE: Even as exploration on the red planet continues in full swing, a new study conducted by UK and Greek researches reveal that Mars once inhabited life; at least in its smallest form.

Nakhla Meteorite (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

The study found a cell-like structure in one of the Martian meteorites which according to scientists is proof that water once existed on Mars, sufficient enough for inhabiting life. The research findings are published in the science journal Astrobiology.

The 1.3 billion-year-old meteorite, code named Nakhla, had some peculiar features within it which made Dr Elias Chatzitheodoridis of the National Technical University of Athens contact his long-time friend Professor Ian Lyon at the University of Manchester who is a specialist in Atmospheric and Environmental Science.

According to Lyon, “In many ways it resembled a fossilised biological cell from Earth but it was intriguing because it was undoubtedly from Mars. Our research found that it probably wasn’t a cell but that it did once hold water – water that had been heated, probably as a result of an asteroid impact.”

The findings are of great importance as it adds to the increasing evidence that supports the claim that Mars once had an atmosphere capable of sustaining life forms. It also stress on the possibility of large asteroids hitting Mars surface, producing hydrothermal fields that are capable of inhabiting life.

Dr Sarah Haigh of The University of Manchester took the high resolution images of the cell including atomic layers of materials inside the meteorite.

Lyon said: “We have been able to show the setting is there to provide life. It’s not too cold, it’s not too harsh.  Life as we know it, in the form of bacteria, for example, could be there, although we haven’t found it yet.  It’s about piecing together the case for life on Mars – it may have existed and in some form could exist still.”

After the epoch making discovery, the scientists are moving to the next level, investigating further into the secondary materials in the meteorite. This will also involve the examination into possible bio signatures that can show proof of life on Mars; past or present.

Lyon added: “Before we return samples from Mars, we must examine them further, but in more delicate ways.  We must carefully search for further evidence.”

The research work was financed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council and has been published in Astrobiology, Vol. 14, No. 8, titled ‘A Conspicuous Clay Ovoid in Nakhla: Evidence for Subsurface Hydrothermal Alteration on Mars with Implications for Astrobiology’.

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