Case File: Rock #84-001
Date: December 1984
Description: Rock #84-001 is described as a 4.2 pound, large potato sized Martian meteorite with fossilized microorganisms inside.
History: In December of 1984, Dr. Robert Score was part of a team of American scientists on a geological expedition searching for meteorites in Antarctica. During the expedition, Dr. Score found a rock later known as Rock #84-001. It weighed only 4.2 pounds and was the size of a large potato. No one paid much attention to it; for eight years, it sat on a shelf because it was mis-classified as a "normal" Earth meteorite.
A few years later, geologist David Middlefield re-classified the rock as a Martian meteorite. It was only the twelfth ever discovered. It was determined to be about 4.5 billion years old, which is almost as old as the Solar System itself. It predated life on Earth by about 1 billion years. A team of NASA scientists analyzed the rock and made a shocking discovery: fossilized remains of tiny microorganisms. The organisms had similar structures to bacteria found on Earth.
Scientists believe that the rock traveled from Mars approximately 4.5 billions years ago. At the time, Mars was wetter, warmer, and being bombarded by catastrophic meteor showers. Its surface was littered with craters and crevices. Water was believed to be on the planet's surface. Some of the water fell into the cracks and crevices of the surface. Over the next 500 million years, chemical reactions in the "primeval soup" apparently produced a primitive life form.
As the water evaporated, the life forms were encased in rock and became fossilized. It is believed that one such rock became #84-001. The rock then sat on the surface of Mars until about 16 million years ago when a large comet or meteorite slammed into the surface of the planet. The meteorite impact then flung the rock into space, where it stayed until it smashed into Antarctica about 13,000 years ago.
Although the organisms in Rock #84-001 were fossilized, some scientists believe that similar rocks with living microorganisms may have came to Earth earlier. It is suspected that these organisms started the human race, which would mean that all life on Earth came from Mars. However, not all of the scientists believe that the rock is definitive proof of life on Mars.
In December of 1996, the unmanned Pathfinder spacecraft took off for Mars. The mission collected hundreds of photos of Mars, along with rocks, soil, and weather data. But in order to find life, they would most likely have to dig into the planet. To this day, many still wonder if there is life on Mars, and if Rock #84-001 holds the key to this mystery.
Investigations: Many NASA scientists have investigated Rock #84-001 in an attempt to determine if the organisms in it came from Mars. They have also looked into the possibility that the rock and its organisms prove that there is life on Mars.
Extra Notes: The case was featured as a part of the November 1, 1996 episode.
The possibility of Life on Mars was previously featured in the segment about the Face on Mars.
Results: Unsolved. Since the discovery of Rock #84-001, several scientists have discredited the hypothesis that the organisms in the rock came from Mars or were previously living organisms. They also suggested that some of the "evidence" found may have been the result of accidental contamination. However, other scientists believe that it could hold the key to extraterrestrial life.
During its Phoenix Mission in 2008, NASA landed a robotic spacecraft on the surface of the planet and tested for traces of water in the soil and atmosphere. It is not known if any significant evidence was uncovered.
- Life on Mars on Unsolved.com
- Rock 84001 at Wikipedia
- What is ALH 84001, the Mars meteorite with the possible fossils?
- The continuing controversy of the Mars meteorite
- Mars Life? 20 Years Later, Debate Over Meteorite Continues