Scientists have announced that they have discovered magnetic crystals inside a 4 billion year old Martian meteorite that landed in Antarctica about 13,000 years ago. On earth, this type of crystal is only produced by microscopic bacteria.This is strong evidence for the existence of at least bacterial life on Mars.

This magnetic compound is called Magnetite and is used in audio and video tapes. It is created by a type of bacteriathat assembles the crystals atom by atom, producing crystals that are free from defects. This bacteria is commonly foundin water here on Earth.

“Finding this type of magnetic crystal in any material from another planet is an amazing and important finding,” saidDr. Dennis Bazylinski, a geobiologist at Iowa State University.

“We’re not claiming this is proof of life on Mars,” said Dr. Everett Gibson, an astrobiologist at NASA. “What we’reclaiming is that these magnetites are basically indistinguishable from certain biogenic (biologically-produced)magnetites on Earth. And furthermore, we know of no other mechanism to make them, either on Earth or Mars.”

At first scientists thought that the crystals could have been from bacteria on Earth that contaminated the meteoriteafter it landed. But they are too deeply embedded in the rock for that to be the case. Also, this type of crystal-creating bacteria doesn’t survive on Earth in the low temperatures of Antarctica, where the meteor was found. The meteor is known as the Allen Hills meteorite, because it was discovered on the Antarctic ice sheet of that name.

Since these crystals are 4 billion years old, they could be traces of early life on Mars, which could have evolved intocomplex structures, then disappeared, as the planet’s atmosphere became inhospitable to life. All of this could haveoccurred before complex life forms appeared on Earth, perhaps seeded from meteorites like this one.

A basic theme from science fiction has always been, “Is there life on Mars?” Now we know that there definitely was lifethere in the past, but we know more than that. Scientists now suspect that we may actually be Martians, since life mayhave traveled here from Mars on meteorites much like this one. Maybe someday we’ll find out if our ancestors left anytraces behind on our home planet.

For the NASA story, click here.

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