Death of a Martian Dream

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Listen: There is no evidence of life on Mars. Meteorite AH 84001, that chunk of Martian rock which was found in the Antarctic two years ago bearing what appeared to be traces of tiny bacteria, got a thorough debunking Friday. No less than three papers in the Journal of Meteoritics and Planetary Science attack the rock's so-called organic evidence. Little crevices in its side that were supposed to contain bacterial traces have been the subject of intense scrutiny and heated debate for some time, but the jury has now effectively returned a verdict: Not Possible.

According to Derek Sears, the journal's editor, the clincher came when AH 84001 was compared with rocks from the moon -- the control experiment of lifelessness. "Within an hour of looking at the lunar meteorites, we knew," said Sears. "We found objects on the lunar meteorites that we cannot distinguish from the Martian meteorites." What's more, iron oxide crystals on the rock suggest it was formed at temperatures eight times higher than boiling water -- too high to support life. Not that this means the Red Planet is and always was a dead planet; we just have to look at the other rocks, that's all.