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Is Martian Meteorite Lucky 13?

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Planetary Science Research Institute
PRESS RELEASE - 10th AUGUST 1998

IS 'MARTIAN' METEORITE LUCKY 13?

Open University researchers will announce on Monday if meteorite samples flown to the UK for analysis this week did originate from Mars.

If authenticated, it could provide the next breakthrough in the search for evidence of life on the red planet and will almost certainly make its prospector finder a millionaire.

Out of the worldwide collection of 20,000 meteorites, only 12 have been proven to come from Mars. All of the dozen are owned by museums or the US Government. The meteorite being analysed by the Open University was found in the Sahara Desert by a private prospector who, if his find is proved genuine, stands to earn US$1000 (or 620 English pound) a gram on the commercial market from the 2.2kg rock.

The Sahara Desert find was announced at a Meteoritical Society conference in Dublin last week. A specimen was despatched immediately to the Planetary Sciences Research Institute (PSRI) at the Open University who are able perform the definitive test of authenticity, a sort of geochemical version of DNA typing involving oxygen isotopes.

The experiment involves heating a sample with pulses of a laser beam in the presence of fluorine containing gas to displace oxygen from the silicate for measurement in a mass spectrometer.

There is global scientific interest in the test results. An affirmative report would pave the way for further analysis that could unlock the secrets of Martian climatic history and provide evidence of conditions capable of supporting life.

PSRI are the UK's leading research group on meteorites and Mars. They are championing the idea of Beagle 2, a British-built robot explorer that would be flown to Mars in 2003, carry out soil and rock analysis on the planet surface and transmit data back to Earth.

Beagle 2 is being designed by an international consortium led by the Open University's Professor Colin Pillinger, and a full-scale model of the lander vehicle will be on display at Monday's media conference. Further information about the Beagle 2 project is available from the Web site at http://beagle2.open.ac.uk/


sahara1.jpg

150mg of the new martian meteorite was made available for analyses at the PSRI. This is shown on the small square of foil on the left of the image. A one pound coin (22mm diameter) is shown for scale. Less than 1% of this material is used for an oxygen isotope analysis.

sahara2.jpg

A close up of the largest chip above (top left corner of the foil square) is shown below. The chip is approximately 5mm across.

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