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We may all be Martians: New research supports theory that life started on Mars

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Posted August 29, 2013
Mars

Mars. Image: NASA

New evidence has emerged which supports the long-debated theory that life on Earth may have started on Mars.

Professor Steven Benner will tell geochemists gathering today (Thursday 29 Aug) at the annual Goldschmidt conference that an oxidized mineral form of the element molybdenum, which may have been crucial to the origin of life, could only have been available on the surface of Mars and not on Earth. “In addition”, said Professor Benner “recent studies show that these conditions, suitable for the origin of life, may still exist on Mars.”

“It’s only when molybdenum becomes highly oxidized that it is able to influence how early life formed,” explains Professor Benner, from The Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology in the USA. “This form of molybdenum couldn’t have been available on Earth at the time life first began, because three billion years ago the surface of the Earth had very little oxygen, but Mars did. It’s yet another piece of evidence which makes it more likely life came to Earth on a Martian meteorite, rather than starting on this planet.”

The research Professor Benner will present at the Goldschmidt conference tackles two of the paradoxes which make it difficult for scientists to understand how life could have started on Earth.

The first is dubbed by Professor Benner as the ‘tar paradox’. All living things are made of organic matter, but if you add energy such as heat or light to organic molecules and leave them to themselves, they don’t create life. Instead, they turn into something more like tar, oil or asphalt.

“Certain elements seem able to control the propensity of organic materials to turn into tar, particularly boron and molybdenum, so we believe that minerals containing both were fundamental to life first starting,” says Professor Benner. “Analysis of a Martian meteorite recently showed that there was boron on Mars; we now believe that the oxidized form of molybdenum was there too.”

 

Read more at: Phys.org

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