Feature Article - November 1996
by Do-While Jones

That's One Small Step for a Rock-

One Giant Leap of Faith


Martian Meteorite Quiz

NASA says meteorite ALH84001 may have come from Mars because
a.it looks like it came from Mars.
b.it smells like it came from Mars.
c.it tastes like it came from Mars.
d.it feels like it came from Mars.
e.it sounds like it came from Mars.

Background

The news broke on August 7, 1996, that NASA scientists may have found evidence of past life on Mars. Before we get too excited, we should realize that whatever they found, they didn't find it on Mars-they found it on Earth. The evidence in question wasn't on a rock brought back from Mars to Earth by a space probe. It was on a rock that was found on the surface of the Earth. The rock might not even have come from Mars.

Why do NASA scientists believe the rock in question came from Mars? They say,

The conclusive evidence that the SNC meteorites originated on Mars comes from the measurement of gases trapped in one meteorite's interior. The trapped gases match those that Viking measured in the martian atmosphere. 1

In other words, the correct answer to the quiz is "b. it smells like it came from Mars." When you consider the wide variety of rocks found on Earth, and the variety of gases trapped in different kinds of rocks, it seems foolish to think that any earth rock found on another planet could be identified as coming from Earth by smell (or any other chemical analysis). Even if we know for sure that all martian rocks have the same gases trapped in them, why should we believe that these trapped gases are uniquely martian? Could not asteroids contain the same gases?

Let's continue reading the statement from NASA and see how much unfounded speculation you can find in the next three paragraphs.

The igneous rock in the 4.2-pound, potato-sized meteorite has been age-dated to about 4.5 billion years, the period when the planet Mars formed. The rock is believed to have originated underneath the martian surface and to have been extensively fractured by impacts as meteorites bombarded the planets in the early inner solar system. Between 3.6 billion and 4 billion years ago, a time when it is generally thought that the planet was warmer and wetter, water is believed to have penetrated fractures in the subsurface rock, possibly forming an underground water system.

Since the water was saturated with carbon dioxide from the martian atmosphere, carbonate minerals were deposited in the fractures. The team's findings indicate living organisms also may have assisted in the formation of the carbonate, and some remains of the microscopic organisms may have become fossilized, in a fashion similar to the formation of fossils in limestone on Earth. Then, 16 million years ago, a huge comet or asteroid struck Mars, ejecting a piece of the rock from its subsurface location with enough force to escape the planet. For millions of years, the chunk of rock floated through space. It encountered Earth's atmosphere 13,000 years ago and fell in Antarctica as a meteorite.

It is in the tiny globs of carbonate that the researchers found a number of features that can be interpreted as suggesting past life. Stanford researchers found easily detectable amounts of organic molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) concentrated in the vicinity of the carbonate. Researchers at JSC found mineral compounds commonly associated with microscopic organisms and the possible microscopic fossil structures. 1

Newsweek magazine discreetly described the aromatic (i.e. stinky) hydrocarbons as "bacteria droppings" 2 but the more common term might have been a more accurate description of the evidence.

The PAHs are not necessarily the result of organic activity. NASA scientists admit,

The carbonate globules are similar in texture and size to some terrestrial bacterially induced carbonate precipitates. Although inorganic formation is possible, formation of the globules by biogenic processes could explain many of the observed features, including the PAHs. 3

The meteorite also contains fossils that look exactly like bacteria. That is, they would look exactly like bacteria if they were just 100 times bigger. 4

How did this meteorite make the trip from Mars to Earth? NASA says,

Meteoroid impact is the only natural process capable of launching martian rocks to Earth. To be ejected from Mars a rock must reach the escape velocity of 5.4 km/sec, which is more than five times the muzzle velocity of a hunting rifle. An impact capable of ejecting the martian meteorites into space would have left a crater of 10-100 km. The meteorites spent several million years in space before landing at various sites on Earth. 5

What is their evidence to support this claim? Simply that the rock is here. Since they believe it must have come from Mars, a meteoroid collision must have done it. There is no supporting evidence.

Analysis

It is doubtful that the rock is from Mars. It is doubtful that the PAHs were organically formed. It is doubtful that the tiny irregularities in the rock are really fossils. Clearly there is a lot of speculation and wishful thinking going on at NASA.

In light of all this, it doesn't seem to be worth reporting. What makes the story interesting is the public reaction. The real story lies in the desire to believe NASA has found evidence of past life on Mars.

Last winter, when we were writing the ads that are just now appearing in the Swap Sheet, we wrote an ad about NASA finding life in space. We are not going to run the ad now because many people erroneously think that NASA has found life on Mars, so the ad would be confusing and ineffective to them. But there is an important point made by the ad that is still valid. There are many good reasons for the space program. The general public, however, is not as scientifically astute as the readers of this newsletter, and has a rather limited perception of the value of the space program. Many people believe that the only two goals of the space program were: (1) to beat the Soviet Union to the moon to prove capitalism is better than communism; and (2) to find life on the Moon or other planets to prove that evolution is so likely that it occurs everywhere. We beat the Soviets to the Moon 27 years ago, but didn't find any life there. The Viking missions to Mars in the mid-1970's found no evidence of life on Mars. Probes sent to other planets have not found a trace of life. Continuation of the space program seemed unnecessary to the general public.

NASA tried to get the public to support orbital space missions, but the public has generally failed to appreciate the importance of the research that can be done in earth orbit. The Challenger disaster made many people question the risks involved with the Space Shuttle program. The cost of the Space Station has dampened enthusiasm for that project, as well.

The announcement that, despite the Viking mission results, there might be evidence of life on Mars after all, has given the space program a slight boost. Although the timing for the announcement was perfect (while the budget was being debated just before a presidential election), the results were disappointing. NASA's 1997 budget was cut 1.6% from the 1996 funding level anyway. 6

It is vital for evolutionists to find evidence of life on Mars. Many experiments attempting to prove that inorganic chemicals that existed on the hypothetical primitive Earth could have formed a living cell have failed. 7 Since life could not possibly have originated on Earth, the first cell must have come from someplace else.

The martian meteorite gives the evolutionists a way out. It allows them to abandon the foolish notion that life started spontaneously on Earth and substitute the foolish notion that life started spontaneously someplace else. You can expect to see more support for the Martian Meteor theory from evolutionists in the future. Watch for hints that the first life came from outer space, too.

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Footnotes:

1 NASA web page. http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/pao/flash/marslife/marslif6.htm (Ev)
2 Newsweek, August 19, 1996, page 57 (Ev)
3 Volume 273, Number 5277, Issue of 16 August 1996 pages 924-930, copyright 1996 by The American Association for the Advancement of Science(Ev)
4 Newsweek, August 19, 1996, page 57 (Ev)
5 NASA web page. http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/pao/flash/marslife (Ev)
6 Science News, Vol. 150, page 246, October 1996 (Ev)
7 Faith & Facts Vol. 9 number 3, 1995 (Cr+)