Meteorite Man Seeks Life in Cosmic Rocks

When Robert Haag was 9 years old, he witnessed a spectacular sight in the air above a beach in Mexico. It was a meteor -- a bright fireball that began his lifelong fascination with these bits of outer space that sometimes fall to Earth.

Haag, now 52, is one of the best-known collectors of meteorites in the world. For the last 30 years, he's bought, sold, traded and donated meteorites to museums, planetariums, universities and private collections.

"Meteorites gave me the opportunity to participate in the space program in my own way," he said.

Life in a Rock?

This globe-hopping adventurer has been compared to the fictional movie character Indiana Jones. While Jones is known for hunting ancient artifacts like the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, and, currently, in movie theaters, the legendary Crystal Skull, Haag is on a personal quest to find his own holy grail, the ultimate jackpot in his line of work: evidence of life in outer space.

"The proof may already be on the planet -- it's just waiting for the right guy or gal out there to find a meteorite that's never been seen on Earth before with the real proof that's gonna flip the scientific community on its head," he said.

Scientists once thought they may have found cosmic life in a meteorite, a specimen discovered in 1984 in Antarctica.

Several years passed before researchers studying the rock not only determined that it had originated from Mars, but also started to believe the rock contained traces of bacterial life.

It became the most-studied meteorite on Earth, but exhaustive tests showed no traces of ancient bacteria.

"The majority of people would say that what was seen in that particular meteorite was not, in fact, fossilized life. There could've been life on Mars at some point, but that's not the smoking gun," said geologist Glenn MacPherson, a meteor curator at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

"Certainly, most scientists believe that there is life outside of Earth -- whether there's any in our solar system or not, whether it comes from Mars or not, is a matter of some debate," MacPherson said. "I think most scientists hold open the possibility that that could happen."

Haag has hundreds of breathtaking specimens of iron and stony-iron rocks from the cosmos that can be easily viewed in his catalogue.

Meteorites 'Like Bugs on Earth's Windshield'

Meteorites are rocks from outer space -- usually fragments from asteroids, rocky and metallic bodies in orbit between Mars and Jupiter -- that make it all the way to Earth without burning up in the atmosphere. The ones we see streaking across the sky are generally very small particles that never make it to the ground.

"In some meteorites, we can actually find very tiny grains of stars -- we can show and understand that these particular grains were formed in supernova explosions or in red giant stars, and when these stars die, this material is spewed out into space," Denton Ebel, curator of the meteorite collection in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, told ABCNEWS.com

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