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Space & Astronomy

Fixed nitrogen found inside Martian meteorite

By T.K. Randall
May 4, 2020 · Comment icon 6 comments

This well known meteorite contains a wealth of clues. Image Credit: NASA
For the first time ever, organic compounds containing nitrogen have been found inside a meteorite from Mars.
Discovered in Antarctica's Allan Hills more than 35 years ago, the meteorite - which is known as ALH84001 - dates back 4 billion years to a time when Mars was very different to how it is today.

You've probably heard of this particular meteorite before - back in the 1990s a team of scientists controversially claimed to have identified microscopic fossilized bacteria contained within it.

The discovery became headline news worldwide and while it has since been downplayed as inconclusive, the research played a key role in advancing the field of astrobiology.

Now, more than 20 years later, scientists analyzing the meteorite have discovered evidence of fixed nitrogen - a strong indication that Mars may have once been home to the ingredients of life.
"Early in the solar system's history, Mars was likely showered with significant amounts of organic matter, for example from carbon-rich meteorites, comets and dust particles," said Atsuko Kobayashi from the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

"Some of them may have dissolved in the brine and been trapped inside the carbonates."

While it remains unclear how these organic compounds may have arisen, their presence represents some of the strongest evidence yet of the past habitability of the Red Planet.

"Whatever the origin, the presence of the organic and reduced nitrogen on early/middle Noachian Mars indicates the importance of Martian nitrogen cycle," the study authors wrote.

Source: Science Alert | Comments (6)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by bison 4 years ago
A purely chemical process is mentioned in the article, by which nitrogen could have become 'fixed'. I would note, too, though, that there are such things, on Earth at least, as nitrogen fixing bacteria. This nitrogen was found in the same Martian meteorite which was supposed to contain traces of micro-organisms from that planet. Quite a coincidence. . .
Comment icon #2 Posted by Torviking 4 years ago
How do we know it came from Mars, given we have only started surveying the planet in the last few years?
Comment icon #3 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 4 years ago
Actually we have been landing spacecraft on Mars for more than 40 years. Vikings 1 and 2 made successful landings in 1976. We know it came from Mars because of the similarity in chemical make up between the meteorites and rocks analysed on Mars.
Comment icon #4 Posted by bison 4 years ago
These meteorites have isotope ratios typical of Martian rocks and gases, which we know from the spacecraft we've sent there. 
Comment icon #5 Posted by DreadLordAvatar 4 years ago
the age old question, life on Mars?, still persists.
Comment icon #6 Posted by bison 4 years ago
The question of fossilized remnants of life in the famed Allan Hills 84001 meteorite has not been truly settled. The majority of scientific opinion tends to minimize this possibility, though. They observe, quite correctly, that the shape of the supposed fossils, by itself, is not reliable evidence of past life. Still, there are some interesting arguments to made on the other side, including the fact that these seeming fossils, together with their mineral context would be taken as strong signs of life, if they had originated on Earth.  More interesting information on this can be found in the ... [More]

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