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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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New Claim for Martian Life
31 October 1996 8:00 pm
Three months after a U.S. team announced that they had found hints of ancient life on Mars, a group of British scientists has seconded the claim. The original hints consisted of carbon compounds, minerals, and tiny fossil-like structures in a meteorite that came from the Red Planet. At a news conference today in London, Colin Pillinger, an astronomer at Britain's Open University, and colleagues Ian Wright and Monica Grady announced they have found new kinds of evidence, in both the original Martian meteorite and in a new one.
The scientists found that the second meteorite, EETA79001, contains unusually high amounts of organic carbon--compounds that are a signature of biological processes, though they can also form from other chemical reactions. Pillinger and his colleagues also analyzed the ratio of heavy to light carbon isotopes in both EETA79001 and the first meteorite, ALH84001. The ratios, argue the British scientists, imply that the carbon may have originated as methane given off by microbes.
Everett Gibson, one of the authors of the research article in Science that made headlines in August, said he was "very pleased to see confirmation [of his team's findings] from a well-respected team that does excellent work." He is also excited by a key difference between the two meteorites. The minerals in the one his team studied were dated at more than 3 billion years, but EETA79001 is just 600,000 years old. "If it contains biogenic processes," he says, "that means they were active late into the history of the planet. Does that mean that there is life there now? It increases the possibility."
But Jeffrey Bada of the Scripps Institute, who studies the origin of life on Earth, says even if the carbon signatures on the meteorite are consistent with life, they're a long way from proving it. "It's so difficult to eliminate terrestrial contamination," he says, "especially when you get things that look just like Earth."