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No. 108: Nov-Dec 1996

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Life Forms In Meteorites?

Few could have escaped the recent gushy press coverage of NASA's announcement that an Antarctic meteorite, possibly of Martian origin, seems to have carried vestiges of life forms from that planet to ours. No need to recapitulate all that hype.

What we do add is the observation that this same sort of excitement has swept through the scientific community at least twice before. Back in 1961, B. Nagy et al discovered tiny particles resembling fossil algae in carbonaceous chondrites. They called these particles "organized elements." Ultimately, these curious particles were explained as natural crystals and terrestrial contaminants. (Ref 1.)

Much earlier, in 1881, Hahn, an eminent German geologist, asserted that he had examined thin sections cut from chondrites and found fossils of sponges, corals, and crinoids. In fact, the extraterrestrial coral that Hahn found even received the scientific name Hahnia meteoritica! In the end, though, Hahn's meteoric life forms met the same fate as the "organized elements" of Nagy et al. (Ref. 2)

Ref. 1. Urey, Harold C.; "Biological Materials in Meteorites: A Review," Science, 151:157, 1966.
Ref. 2. Bingham, Francis; "The Discovery of Organic Remains in Meteoritic Stones," Popular Science Monthly, 20:83, 1881.

Both references can be found in our Handbook Mysterious Universe. For information on this book, visit here.

'Organized elements' found in carbonaceous chondrites Some of the "Organized elements" found in carbonaceous chondrites in the early 1960s. They turned out to be terrestrial contaminants (Ref. 1).

From Science Frontiers #108, NOV-DEC 1996. 1996-2000 William R. Corliss