Tags: mars | rover | curiosity | fossilized | signs | life

Mars Rover Curiosity May Have Found Fossilized Signs of Life

Image: Mars Rover Curiosity May Have Found Fossilized Signs of Life
(NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via Getty Images, file)

By    |   Thursday, 08 Jan 2015 10:10 AM

The Mars rover Curiosity has possibly discovered signs of life, long fossilized, in the sands of the Red Planet.

"Further evidence must be provided to verify this hypothesis," Nora Noffke, a geobiologist at Old Dominion University in Virginia told Space.com — "although I do think that this evidence is a lot."

Noffke has been studying microbially-induced sedimentary structures (MISS) for over 20 years, formed by colonies of microbes that trap and rearrange sediments in shallow bodies of water. In some cases, these structures become fossilized, and are thus preserved for future generations to study.

Here on this planet, Noffke discovered what could be the oldest signs of life on Earth in Western Australia's Dresser Formation. There, the MISS are calculated to be 3.5 billion years old.

In the forthcoming issue of the journal Astrobiology, Noffke is publishing a study examining the sedimentary structures in Mars' Gillespie Lake outcrop. The Mars' sedimentary structures are strikingly similar to those formed by microbes here on Earth, and suggest that they were formed by live microbes 3.7 billion years ago.

Unfortunately for Noffke and humanity at large, scientists won't know for sure whether the sediment patterns were formed by live microbes or other non-living environmental factors until samples are returned to Earth. As of yet, there are no such plans – or perhaps means – to do so.

Some scientists, including Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center and an associate editor of Astrobiology, are skeptical of sediment studies suggesting life via formation patterns.

"I've seen many papers that say 'Look, here's a pile of dirt on Mars, and here's a pile of dirt on Earth. And because they look the same, the same mechanism must have made each pile on the two planets,'" he said recently.

"That's an easy argument to make, and it's typically not very convincing. However, Noffke's paper is the most carefully done analysis of the sort that I’ve seen, which is why it's the first of its kind published in Astrobiology."

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The Mars rover Curiosity has possibly discovered signs of life, long fossilized, in the sands of the Red Planet.
mars, rover, curiosity, fossilized, signs, life
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2015-10-08
Thursday, 08 Jan 2015 10:10 AM
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