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Ten Years Later…

…ALH84001 seems to have become the “cold fusion” of the life on Mars debate.

Ten years later, the results have not been verified. Skeptics have found non-biological explanations for every piece of evidence that was presented on Aug. 6, 1996. And though they still vigorously defend their claim, the NASA scientists who advanced it now stand alone in their belief.

“We certainly have not convinced the community, and that’s been a little bit disappointing,” said David McKay, a NASA biochemist and leader of the team that started the scientific episode.

On the other hand, the study of ALH84001 has by no means been a wasted effort — more like a false-alarm-as-fire-drill:

Debating the claim has helped researchers develop standards that will eventually prove useful for evaluating the presence of life in other Martian meteorites or a sample from the red planet. It has given the scientific community ideas about exactly where on the planet they would most like to scoop up a sample, should they ever get to retrieve one.

In other words, the false alarm of the initial discovery and announcement generated interest in an area where scientific standards were lacking, these standards were subsequently developed in the process of testing the original claims, and as a result we now have a better handle on how to look for and identify extraterrestrial microbial life in the future.

Meanwhile, others are thinking about how to break the news to the public the next time there is a possible discovery of biological material on Mars.

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