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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

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987