For years, scientists have debated about the possibility of life on Mars due to its similarity and proximity to Earth. In fact, serious investigations into the question began as early as the 19th century, and still continue today. Although presently, there is no definitive answer, a meteorite from the Red Planet seems to suggest that the possibility is not too far removed from reality.
The meteorite, now named Tissint, was expelled from Mars nearly 700,000 years ago – after an asteroid crashed onto its surface. On July 18, 2011, at approximately 2a.m. local time, it landed in a desert in the region of the Oued Drâa valley, east of Tata, Morocco. According to an eyewitness, “it was at first yellow in color, and then turned green illuminating all the area before it appeared to split into two parts. Two sonic booms were heard over the valley.”
Mysteriously, the meteorite possesses small fissures filled with organic, carbon-containing matter that scientists have already analyzed. Although they still aren’t sure where the carbon came from, the studies revealed several probable explanations – many of which hint at a “terrestrial origin.” The carbon, for example, was present before Tissint ever landed on Earth, meaning it was also present before it left Mars.
But how exactly did it get there? A paper in the scientific journal, Meteoritics and Planetary Sciences, details the findings.
One possibility is that the carbon is the aftermath of high-temperature crystallization of magma. Another belief is that liquid with carbon-containing substances “of biological origin” somehow infiltrated the meteorite’s “mother” rock near the Martian surface. Under this hypothesis, the organic matter was brought to Mars when carbonated chondrites – or primitive meteorites – fell to the planet’s surface.
“So far, there is no other theory that we find more compelling,” said Philippe Gillet, the director of EPFL’s Earth and Planetary Sciences in a news release.
However, he is also quick to point out that a definitive answer is still in the works, “Insisting on certainty is unwise, particularly on such a sensitive topic,” he said. “I’m completely open to the possibility that other studies might contradict our findings. However, our conclusions are such that they will rekindle the debate as to the possible existence of biological activity on Mars-at least in the past.”