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Biomarkers in Carbonate Thermal Springs: Implications for MarsEvidence of possible relict biogenic activity has been reported in carbonate inclusions within martian meteorite ALH 84001. The initial evidence included ovoid and elongated forms 50 - 500 nanometers in length, morphologically similar to but significantly smaller than many terrestrial microbes. More recently, thin structures resembling the remains of organic biofilms have been reported in the same meteorite. Carbonates have also been discussed in the context of Mars sample return missions. Thermal spring deposits have often been cited as prime locations for exobiological exploration. By analogy to Earth, specialized microbes may have existed in the heated, mineralized waters, and precipitates of carbonate and/or silica from these waters may have trapped and preserved evidence of life. Since the geological interactions that produce thermal springs can be recognized in orbital imagery, directed searches for microfossils in such deposits are deemed possible. We are engaged in a study of the signatures produced by contemporary biogenic activity (biomarkers) in carbonate thermal springs. We are examining the microbes that live in such environments and the preservation of microbial forms, biofilms, and petrographic fabrics indicative of life in thermal spring mineral deposits. This work is part of a much more extensive study to refine the appropriate tools, techniques, and approaches to seek evidence of life in a range of planetary samples. A deeper understanding of biological signatures will prepare us for the detailed search for life on Mars and eventually on other planets. Overall. the study of biomarkers in rocks and soils will provide insight into the evolution of life because such signatures are a record of how life interacts with its environment, how it adapts to changing conditions, and how life can influence geology and climate.
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Johnson Space Center
Document Type
Allen, C. C.
(Lockheed Martin Corp. Houston, TX United States)
Kivett, S. J.
(Houston Univ. TX United States)
McKay, D. S.
(NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX United States)
Date Acquired
August 19, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 1998
Publication Information
Publication: Workshop on the Issue Martian Meteorites: Where do we Stand and Where are we Going?
Subject Category
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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