Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in Antarctic Martian meteorites, carbonaceous chondrites, and polar ice
Recent analyses of the carbonate globules present in the Martian meteorite ALH84001 have detected polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) at the ppm level (McKay et al., 1996). The distribution of PAHs observed in ALH84001 was interpreted as being inconsistent with a terrestrial origin and were claimed to be indigenous to the meteorite, perhaps derived from an ancient martian biota. We have examined PAHs in the Antarctic shergottite EETA79001, which is also considered to be from Mars, as well as several Antarctic carbonaceous chondrites. We have found that many of the same PAHs detected in the ALH84001 carbonate globules are present in Antarctic carbonaceous chondrites and in both the matrix and carbonate (druse) component of EETA79001. We also investigated PAHs in polar ice and found that carbonate is an effective scavenger of PAHs in ice meltwater. Moreover, the distribution of PAHs in the carbonate extract of Antarctic Allan Hills ice is remarkably similar to that found in both EETA79001 and ALH84001. The reported presence of L-amino acids of apparent terrestrial origin in the EETA79001 druse material (McDonald and Bada, 1995) suggests that this meteorite is contaminated with terrestrial organics probably derived from Antarctic ice meltwater that had percolated through the meteorite. Our data suggests that the PAHs observed in both ALH84001 and EETA79001 are derived from either the exogenous delivery of organics to Mars or extraterrestrial and terrestrial PAHs present in the ice meltwater or, more likely, from a mixture of these sources. It would appear that PAHs are not useful biomarkers in the search for extinct or extant life on Mars.