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Monday, August 10, 1998 Published at 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK


Red planet rock

Life on mars? - the debate continues

A meteorite found in the Sahara desert, dubbed Lucky 13, did come from Mars, British scientists have revealed.

Meteorite experts said the findings could provide the next breakthrough in the search for evidence of life on the red planet.

The private prospector who found the meteorite, which was analysed by the Open University, now stands to become a millionaire.

The 2.2 kilogram rock is worth about £1.4 million on the commercial market.

It is thought to be between one million and 4.5 billion years old, according to the Planetary Sciences Research Institute at the Open University.

Of the 20,000 meteorites in worldwide collections, this is only the 13th to have been shown to originate from mars.

They were blasted off the surface of the planet by comet or asteroid impacts millions of years ago and eventually landed on earth after drifting through space.

In August 1996 Nasa scientists astounded the world by saying they had found what appeared to be fossilised microbes in a martian meteorite recovered from Antarctica.

The discovery appeared to be the first evidence of past life on Mars, but has since been challenged by other experts.

Professor Colin Pillinger, of the Open University, made the announcement about Lucky 13 after carrying out a geo-chemical version of "DNA fingerprinting" involving oxygen isotopes.

His team said further analysis could unlock the secrets of Martian climatic history and provide evidence of conditions capable of supporting life.

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