September 1, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

Milking the Martian Meteorite

One would think everything has been told about ALH 84001, the Martian meteorite that made a splash in 1996 with claims it contained fossils of living organisms.  That claim was essentially discarded in subsequent years.  Its major contribution was giving life to a new science called astrobiology and energizing NASA’s Mars program.  Now, a new claim is being made about the rock, reported New Scientist: the rock was once bathed in cool water.
    Paul Niles of NASA Johnson Space Center, not a part of the original 1996 team, examined some of the carbon-based minerals in the rock.  One of the criticisms of the life claim was that these minerals would have had to form in temperatures too hot for any organisms.  Niles’ research “suggests the water involved was cool enough to allow for life, which at least keeps open the possibility of fossilised life in the meteorite.”  To him, it also means that the environment in which the rock sat for a long time was potentially habitable.
    A JPL scientist who was not part of the team called this meteorite “probably the single most examined rock in all of human history.”  He did not think this proves life existed.  Finding out that answer “may require a mission to bring back rock samples from the planet,” New Scientist said.

Mission accomplished!  What is the mission, you ask?  It’s twofold: (1) keep the possibility of life on Mars open, and (2) provide more reasons to support the Mars program.  This is like keeping the possibility of gnomes open, because their fossilized representations keep turning up in gardens and on Travelocity commercials.  Now, scientists have found that the environment in remote forests is not as harsh for gnomes as previously believed.  If the forests were cool enough to allow for life, it at least keeps open the possibility that gnomes may be found.  Support tax-funded gnome research!
    There are better reasons to study Mars than to pursue certain atheists’ unending quest for fellowship with space brethren.  Learning more about Mars, for instance, might help earthlings appreciate the gift of God’s green earth.  The only gnomes we know about were produced by intelligent design.  They are not mystical beings that emerge from the environment.  They were created by human beings for a function: decorating gardens, selling vacation packages and providing amusing stories for children, like imaginary life on Mars.

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