ALIEN fossils ON MARS: Curiosity snaps evidence of life

'Worm' trails in lake bed remarkably similar to Earth rock


Pics Photographs of rocks taken by NASA's Curiosity rover may confirm that life as we know it once existed on Mars.

The pictures were shot at the Gillespie Lake outcrop in Yellowknife Bay, which used to be a huge lake back when Mars had surface water. Dr Nora Noffke, who has spent 20 years studying fossils of early microbes, said formations in the Martian rocks looked very similar to those found on Earth – formations created by microorganisms.

“In one image, I saw something that looked very familiar,” Noffke told Astrobiology Magazine. “So I took a closer look, meaning I spent several weeks investigating certain images centimetre by centimetre, drawing sketches, and comparing them to data from terrestrial structures."

Possible fossil strata on Mars marked out

Possible fossil strata on Mars marked out

Her research, published [PDF] in the journal Astrobiology, examined structures in the Martian rocks, and compared them to the remains of microbial organisms that were once the most advanced form of life on our planet. Interestingly enough, they match up.

As life evolved on Earth, layers of organic matter spread out wherever moisture could be found, leaving behind microbial-induced patterns in rocks. She acknowledges it’s possible that the structures on Mars could have formed through natural erosion.

“But if the Martian structures aren’t of biological origin,” Noffke says, “then the similarities in morphology, but also in distribution patterns with regards to [microbially induced sedimentary structures] on Earth would be an extraordinary coincidence.”

Comparison of fossil strata on Earth and Mars

Mars rock on the left, Earth rock on the right

The vast repository of images NASA has put online has sparked some remarkable claims about what the rover has found while on the Red Planet. We’ve had reports of a fast-growing fungus, and claims of mysterious leg bones embedded in the Martian surface, but Dr Noffke’s paper is careful not to claim to have found the answer to David Bowie’s question.

"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,'" said Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center and an associate editor of Astrobiology.

"And because they look the same, the same mechanism must have made each pile on the two planets. 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."

Noffke – who works at the Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Old Dominion University in Virginia, US – hopes others will test her hypothesis. The next time Curiosity comes across features like this, they would be a good candidate for drilling and analysis by the nuclear-powered rover’s on-board laboratory.

The ideal solution would be to get samples of the rock back to Earth for study, she notes, but that’s well in the future. While NASA has plans for a sample return mission they are at least a decade away and may not even take place, particularly if Elon Musk is already on the surface. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Mars Express orbiter to get code update after 19 years
    And over millions of miles, too. Piece of cake!?

    The software on ESA's Mars Express spacecraft is to be upgraded after nearly two decades, giving the orbiter capabilities to hunt for water beneath the planet and study its larger moon, Phobos.

    Mars Express was launched on June 2, 2003, and was initially made up of two components: the Mars Express Orbiter and the Beagle 2 lander. Unfortunately, the lander failed to make contact with Earth after it was released and arrived at the surface of the Red Planet. It is presumed lost. The orbiter, however, is still working after 19 years in service, spinning around Mars.

    Now, engineers at the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF), Italy, are revamping the spacecraft's software. The upgrade will allow the Mars Express Orbiter to continue searching for water locked beneath the Martian surface using its MARSIS radio-wave instrument and monitor the planet's closest satellite, Phobos, more efficiently. MARSIS is today operated by INAF and funded by the Italian Space Agency.

    Continue reading
  • NASA ignores InSight's battery woes in pursuit of data
    Space boffins: Nevermind ekeing out the battery, let it go out in a blaze of glory!

    Pondering what services to switch off to keep your laptop going just that bit longer? NASA engineers can relate, having decided the Mars InSight lander will go out on a high: they plan to burn through the remaining power to keep the science flowing until the bitter end.

    The InSight lander is in a precarious position regarding power. A build-up of dust has meant the spacecraft's solar panels are no longer generating anywhere near enough power to keep the batteries charged. The result is an automatic shutdown of the payload, although there is a chance InSight might still be able to keep communicating until the end of the year.

    Almost all of InSight's instruments have already been powered down, but the seismometer remains active and able to detect seismic activity on Mars (such as Marsquakes.) The seismometer was expected to be active until the end of June, at which point it too would be shut-down in order to eke out the lander's dwindling supply of power just a little longer.

    Continue reading
  • Mars helicopter needs patch to fly again after sensor failure
    NASA engineers continue to show Ingenuity as uplinking process begins

    The Mars Ingenuity helicopter is in need of a patch to work around a failed sensor before another flight can be attempted.

    The helicopter's inclinometer failed during a recommissioning effort ahead of the 29th flight. The sensor is critical as it will reposition the craft nearer to the Perseverance rover for communication purposes.

    Although not required during flight, the inclinometer (which consists of two accelerometers) is used to measure gravity prior to spin-up and takeoff. "The direction of the sensed gravity is used to determine how Ingenuity is oriented relative to the downward direction," said Håvard Grip, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter chief pilot.

    Continue reading
  • NASA's 161-second helicopter tour of Martian terrain
    Ingenuity footage sent back to Earth via Perseverance, despite looming battery problem

    Video On Friday NASA released footage of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter flying further and faster than ever before.

    The film recorded during Ingenuity's 25th flight on April 8 when it flew 704 meters at up to 5.5 meters per second.

    In the sped-up footage shown below, the vehicle climbs to 10 meters, heads southwest, accelerates to max speed in under three seconds, and flies over Martian sand ripples and rock fields before landing on relatively flat terrain.

    Continue reading
  • NASA's InSight doomed as Mars dust coats solar panels
    The little lander that couldn't (any longer)

    The Martian InSight lander will no longer be able to function within months as dust continues to pile up on its solar panels, starving it of energy, NASA reported on Tuesday.

    Launched from Earth in 2018, the six-metre-wide machine's mission was sent to study the Red Planet below its surface. InSight is armed with a range of instruments, including a robotic arm, seismometer, and a soil temperature sensor. Astronomers figured the data would help them understand how the rocky cores of planets in the Solar System formed and evolved over time.

    "InSight has transformed our understanding of the interiors of rocky planets and set the stage for future missions," Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, said in a statement. "We can apply what we've learned about Mars' inner structure to Earth, the Moon, Venus, and even rocky planets in other solar systems."

    Continue reading
  • Mars Ingenuity helicopter and Perseverance are talking again
    NASA drops heater temp to boost batteries as dust hits solar supply

    The long-lived Ingenuity helicopter has made contact with NASA's Perseverance rover on Mars after an unexpected communications blackout.

    Ingenuity just passed the milestone of a year of operations on the Red Planet, after being designed for five experimental test flights over 30 Martian days during 2021. Thus far, the helicopter has managed to fly more than 4.2 miles in 28 sorties, proving NASA's reputation for over-engineering its space kit.

    Ingenuity uses Perseverance as a base station to send data to and receive commands from Earth. Well, up until May 3, when communications between rover and helicopter dropped out. The problem? Dust, it turns out, which was stopping the helicopter from charging properly from its solar panels.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022