An astrobiologist thinks he may have found evidence of bacteria microfossils in a meteorite.

Dr. Richard B. Hoover, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center has published his findings in the online Journal of Cosmology. He claims he found “indigenous fossils” of bacterial life in a rare type of meteorites – CI1 carbonaceous meteorites (he examined samples from the Ivuna and Orgueil meteorites). The pictures in the original paper, for sure, show intriguing structures, a few of them being similar to some kind of bacteria (which doesn’t mean they are bacteria).


© Richard B. Hoover

The possibility that the samples were contaminated by Earthly bacteria immediately comes to mind, but Hoover apparently ruled it out:

“Many of the filaments shown in the figures are clearly embedded in the meteorite rock matrix. Consequently, it is concluded that the Orgueil filaments cannot logically be interpreted as representing filamentous cyanobacteria that invaded the meteorite after its arrival. They are therefore interpreted as the indigenous remains of microfossils that were present in the meteorite rock matrix when the meteorite entered the Earth’s atmosphere.”

However, the astrobiologist doesn’t say anything about how the meteorites had been stored before he obtained them, or the tools he used during the examinations (he only states the tools were flame-sterilized)…

Hoover further concludes that the finding raises the possibility of life on comets and icy moons such as Europa and Enceladus.

In the past, many other such claims were made, all of them found to be false. For now, it is impossible to tell whether Hoover is right. Because of the controversial nature of the claim, the Journal of Cosmology sent 5,000 invitations to scientists to review the paper; it is also interesting to know that, as noted by Phil Plait, the Journal of Cosmology itself seems to be pretty familiar with “delicate” topics…

Has life been found on a meteorite? Maybe, but nothing has been confirmed and we are still very far from having a definitive answer, so let’s wait for further examinations by other scientists.