Ancient fossils on Mars?


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A close look at features on the Martian surface seen by Curiosity suggests to one scientist the presence of ancient fossils of carpet-like microbiology.

On Earth, carpet-like colonies of microbes trap and rearrange sediments in shallow bodies of water such as lakes and costal areas, forming distinctive features that fossilize over time. These structures, known as microbially-induced sedimentary structures (or MISS), are found in shallow water settings all over the world and in ancient rocks spanning Earth’s history.

Nora Noffke, a geobiologist at Old Dominion University in Virginia, has spent the past 20 years studying these microbial structures. Last year, she reported the discovery of MISS that are 3.48 billion years old in the Western Australia’s Dresser Formation, making them potentially the oldest signs of life on Earth.

In a paper published online last month in the journal Astrobiology (the print version comes out this week), Noffke details the striking morphological similarities between Martian sedimentary structures in the Gillespie Lake outcrop (which is at most 3.7 billion years old) and microbial structures on Earth.

Noffke is very careful in her analysis. She doesn’t claim any proofs, only that her expert eye sees the same things on both planets. Most intriguing.

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4 comments

  • mpthompson

    I don’t know. To my layman’s eyes I don’t see much simularity. The patterns seem to reflect more wishful thinking than similar morphology. It will be interesting if other experts in her field are willing to publish similar findings.

    Seems the should be something Curiosity curiosity could do help narrow whether the featuses represent biological activity or not. Perhaps photographs from different angles or someven type of ultra closeup.

  • mpthompson

    Excuse the typos. Tablet computers and web forms don’t mix well.

  • D K Rögnvald Williams

    I think it’s probable that microbial life existed on Mars at some point in its history. I’m less certain that we will find evidence of it this century.

  • PeterF

    If microbial life does exist, the vast majority of it will be found deep underground as it is on earth. In which case may we also find petroleum deposits?

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