Analysis of Martian meteorite using unique magnetic microscope

When Joseph L. Kirschvink heard about the capabilities of the new magnetic microscope designed and built by scientists at Vanderbilts Living State Physics Laboratory, he immediately had an idea for an important experiment that the instrument was uniquely suited to perform.

The professor of geobiology at the California Institute of Technology had samples of the famous Martian meteorite, ALH84001, and he realized that he could use the Vanderbilt instrument to gain important new information about the meteorites thermal history, information that could provide valuable support for the popular theory that, over geologic time, Martian meteorites may have carried microbial life from Mars to Earth.

The subsequent collaboration between Kirschvink and his colleagues and Vanderbilt scientists Franz J. Baudenbacher, research assistant professor of physics, and John P. Wikswo, the A B Learned Professor of Living State Physics, has resulted in an article that appears in the Oct. 27 issue of the journal Science. In the article, A Low-Temperature Transfer of ALH84001 from Mars to Earth, the scientists do not claim that microbial life actually traveled from Mars to Earth aboard the meteorite, but they do conclude that the famous meteorites interior remained cool enough to allow such a thing to happen.

Previous studies have shown that spores and microorganisms can exist for a number of years in deep space. Dynamic simulations indicate that a small, but significant number of the meteorites that travel between the two planets do so in less than a year. Further studies have shown that the process of re-entry into Earths atmosphere does not heat the interior of even modest sized meteorites to levels that would kill microscopic passengers.

The major remaining objection to the hypothesis is that when the meteorites are initially blasted into space by major meteoroid impacts, they are necessarily subjected to so much energy that even their i

Contact: David F. Salisbury
Vanderbilt University

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