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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 May, 2005, 23:29 GMT 00:29 UK
North Sea clues to life on Mars
Oil industry techniques could help detect whether there is life on Mars
A scientist believes techniques used to find oil and gas in the North Sea could help establish whether life could survive on Mars.

Professor John Parnell, from Aberdeen University, has been studying a meteorite crater using methods for detecting oil and gas underground.

He was part of a team of researchers working at the 23-million-year-old impact site in the Arctic.

The scientists found traces of ancient organic matter in the crater.

The Haughton meteorite impact site in the Canadian High Arctic is the subject of a US space agency (Nasa) project by its Ames Research Center and the Mars Institute.

The team concluded that the rocks in the crater did not get hot enough to completely wipe out evidence of life which was there when the space rock fell to Earth.

'Great opportunity'

The surface of Mars is covered with craters caused by crashing asteroids and meteoroids and the scientists believe the same practices they used could be employed to look at whether the Red Planet is habitable.

Professor Parnell said: "Working in this remote uninhabited terrain gave us a great opportunity to do detailed sampling where the rocks have not been contaminated by man or covered by vegetation.

"However, the snow and ice are only melted for a few weeks each year, so we just had a brief window when the work has to be completed.

"It is widely believed that frequent impact events on the early Earth destroyed organic matter and inhibited evolution.

"However, the Haughton data suggests that in moderate-sized craters, biomolecules, fossilised remains and even microbial life may have survived."

The study's findings are reported in the May edition of Geology which is published by the Geological Society of America.

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