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Thomas Gold - Professional papers

Thomas Gold - Professional papers

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Published by zaroia
Dr. Thomas Gold (1920 - 2004) left a legacy to mankind
Dr. Thomas Gold (1920 - 2004) left a legacy to mankind

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Published by: zaroia on Sep 11, 2008
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Thomas Gold

May 1997

Meteorites have been collected from the ice fields of Antarctica and several of them appear to
have come from Mars. Trace element ratios such as the sequence of noble gases from neon to
xenon, as well as the rather unusual nitrogen isotopic ratio of the Martian atmosphere, are so
specific that it seems very improbable that any other body would match this so closely. Some
of these meteorites contain unoxidized carbon, some of it in the form of hydrocarbons similar
to molecules that are commonly found in petroleum on the Earth. One of the Martian carbon-
bearing meteorites, denoted ALH84001, was analyzed and gave an indication that microbial
activity had taken place in this material. Detailed examination made it seem very improbable
that this evidence was due to contamination in Antarctica, but rather that the biological imprint
had been present in the interior of the stone before it fell to the Earth.

For an object to be shot off from Mars into an orbit that could eventually end on the Earth, a
very large meteorite impact on Mars would have to have been responsible. There are many
large impact craters on Mars, so that this does not seem improbable. But in a large impact,
most of the material excavated and possibly propelled to a high velocity, will have come from a
considerable depth, and the contribution made by surface or near-surface materials is likely to
be a very small one. In that case the past surface conditions on Mars are not significant factors
for the evaluation of the evidence provided by this meteorite.

Mars, like the Earth, will have internal heat sources, and temperatures will be increasing with
depth. Water is so common on planetary bodies that it seems almost certain it will be present

in large quantity also on Mars, and there must then be a depth range in which it is liquid. If the
surface temperature has decreased over geologic times, the depth range of liquid water would
have moved a little lower. The surface itself and a thin layer below are cold, so that any water
coming up from deeper levels would generally not spill over the surface, but freeze in the
rocks. Very little would reach the surface; in contrast to the circumstances on the Earth, where
a surface temperature above the freezing point of water allowed all the ocean water to come
up and spill over the surface. Small amounts of water vapor have indeed been detected in the
Martian atmosphere.

The surface materials will have had a very different chemical history on the Earth as on Mars;
but below the surface there will be somewhat similar materials on the two bodies, as
represented by a mix of the meteorites, the left-over debris of planetary formation.

A comparison of the Martian meteorites with terrestrial sub-surface materials may then be
meaningful. Temperatures and pressures will generally increase with depth, but at different
rates on the different bodies, rates that are not yet known for Mars.

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