Meteorite ALH 84001

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Allan Hills 84001 (commonly abbreviated ALH 84001 is a meteorite that was found in Allan Hills, Antarctica on December 27, 1984 by a team of U.S. meteorite hunters from the ANSMET project. Like other members of the group of SNCs (shergottite, nakhlite, chassignite), ALH 84001 is thought to be from Mars. However, it does not fit into any of the previously discovered SNC groups. On discovery, its mass was 1.93 kilograms (4.3 lb). It made its way into headlines worldwide in 1996 when scientists announced that it might contain evidence for microscopic fossils of Martian bacteria based on carbonate globules observed.

The theory holds that ALH 84001 was shocked and broken by one or more meteorite impacts on the surface of Mars some 3.9 to 4.0 billion years ago,but remained on the planet. It was later blasted off from the surface in a separate impact about 15 million years ago and impacted Earth roughly 13,000 years ago. These dates were established by a variety of radiometric dating techniques, including samarium-neodymium (Sm-Nd), rubidium-strontium (Rb-Sr), potassium-argon (K-Ar), and carbon-14.

It is hypothesized that ALH 84001 originated from a time period during which liquid water may have existed on Mars.Other meteorites that have potential biological markings have generated less interest because they do not originate from a “wet” Mars. ALH 84001 is the only meteorite collected from such a time period

Under the scanning electron microscope structures were revealed that some scientists interpreted as fossils of bacteria-like lifeforms. The structures found on ALH 84001 are20–100 nanometres in diameter, similar in size to theoretical nanobacteria, but smaller than any known cellular life at the time of their discovery. If the structures are in fact fossilized lifeforms, as proposed by the so-called biogenic hypothesis of their formation, they would be the first solid evidence of the existence of extraterrestrial life, aside from the chance of their origin being terrestrial contamination. At the time this was highly controversial, but with the presence of water now firmly established on Mars the search for life is now a consuming acaedemic preoccupation.

Meteorite ALH 84001

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