Could there be mushrooms on Mars? In a new paper, an international team of scientists from countries including the U.S., France, and China have gathered and compared photographic evidence they claim shows fungus-like objects growing on the Red Planet.
In their paper, which appears in Scientific Research Publishing’s Advances in Microbiology, the scientists analyze images taken by NASA’s Opportunity and Curiosity rovers, plus the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE camera. The objects in question show “chalky-white colored spherical shaped specimens,” which the Mars Opportunity team initially said was a mineral called hematite.
Later studies refuted the hematite claim. Soon, some scientists coined the term “Martian mushrooms” to describe the mysterious objects, because of how they resemble lichens and mushrooms, while in another study, fungi and lichen experts classified the spheres as “puffballs”—a white, spherical fungus belonging to the phylum Basidiomycota found on Earth.
In the new paper, the scientists point to a set of Opportunity photos that shows nine spheres increasing in size, and an additional 12 spheres emerging from beneath the soil, over a 3-day sequence. The researchers claim Martian wind didn’t uncover the amorphous spheres, and that they “expand in size, or conversely, change shape, move to new locations, and/or wane in size and nearly disappear.”