On August 6, 1996, NASA and Stanford researchers announce they have found signs of Martian life in a meteorite discovered 12 years earlier in Allan Hills, Antarctica, causing a worldwide sensation. But some viewed the announcement skeptically, and the Martian life connection was later debunked.
A NASA spokesman initially called the evidence of fossilized, one-celled organisms in the meteorite, called ALH 84001, “exciting, even compelling, but not conclusive.”
“I want everyone to understand that we are not talking about ‘little green men,’ ” he said, according to the Washington Post. “These are extremely small, single-cell creatures that somewhat resemble bacteria on Earth. There is no evidence or suggestion that any higher life form ever existed on Mars.”
Added Carl Sagan, the famed author and scientist: “If it is truly a micro-fossil from ancient Martian history, it is a transforming discovery in the history of science. Not just that, but it provides a profound perspective on our place in the universe.”
Meteorites are remnants from the solar system’s birth. They are chunks of debris that float through space and, occasionally, into Earth’s orbit. When they fall into the atmosphere and burn before reaching the surface, they are called meteors.
The Antarctica meteorite became one of the most studied rocks in history. The NASA announcement sparked calls for more studies of meteorites, especially ones that fall in remote Antarctica.
“If you want to collect dark things that fall from the sky, the ideal place to do it is on a big white tablecloth, and that’s really what Antarctica is,” a planetary geologist told Florida Today.