A spaced-out theory that claimed evidence of Martian life may have been debunked by scientists after a decades-long debate that alienated some skeptical researchers.
A 4-billion-year-old Martian meteorite found in Antarctica in the 1980s was said to contain evidence of ancient living things on the Red Planet but experts announced Thursday they had confirmed it showed no signs of extraterrestrial life.
A NASA-led team of researchers suggested in 1996 that the gray-green space rock appeared to have organic compounds left behind from living organisms, which was doubted by many scientists at the time and prompted decades of further research.
A team from the Carnegie Institution for Science, led by Andrew Steele, said in a study published in the journal Science that the compounds were not the result of living creatures, but by salty groundwater water flowing over the rocks for a long period of time.
The hunks of carbon compound on the rock were determined to have been from water while it was still on Mars’ surface. Researchers said that a similar process occurs with rocks on Earth, and could explain the presence of methane on Mars.
A South African researcher discovered what appears to be an image of a crashed flying saucer on the surface of Mars, according to re-analyzed NASA footage from 2006.
Jean Ward, an anomaly hunter, was searching through NASA images for noteworthy aberrations when he discovered the image taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Despite the image being 15 years old, Ward’s discovery of what appears to be the flying saucer is not.
The image comes from the bottom of Candor Chasma, which is a large canyon in the Valles Marineris system on Mars. The canyon is referred to as “The Grand Canyon of Mars,” and spans the equivalent of the U.S. It is the largest known canyon in the solar system.
This footage from NASA captures the canyon’s many swirling patterns of layers, created by sand and dust-sized particles from the forces of either wind or water.
“We see a strange trench and at the end of it, a perfect disk,” Ward says of the anomaly amid the dune-filled landscape. “Mostly covered in sand and debris, and behind it, we have random dunes,” he continued.
On February 18, NASA’s Perseverance rover will parachute through thin Martian air, marking a new era in red planet exploration. Landing on the Jezero Crater, which is located north of the Martian equator, will be no easy feat. Only about 40 percent of the missions ever sent to Mars succeed, according to NASA. If it does, Perseverance could drastically change the way we think about extraterrestrial life. That’s because scientists believe Jezero, a 28 mile-wide impact crater that used to be a lake, is an ideal place to look for evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars.
Once it lands, Perseverance will collect and store Martian rock and soil samples, which will eventually be returned to Earth. This is known as a “sample-return mission,” an extremely rare type of space exploration mission due to its expense. (Indeed, there has never been a sample return mission from another planet.) And once Martian soil is returned to Earth in a decade, scientists will set about studying the material to figure out if there was ever ancient life on Mars.
Yet some scientists believe that these samples could answer an even bigger question: Did life on Earth originate on Mars?
Though the idea that life started on Mars before migrating on Earth sounds like some far-fetched sci-fi premise, many renowned scientists take the theory seriously. The general idea of life starting elsewhere in space before migrating here has a name, too: Panspermia. It’s the hypothesis that life exists elsewhere in the universe, and is distributed by asteroids and other space debris.
To be clear, the notion of life on Earth originating on Mars isn’t a dominant theory in the scientific community, but it does appear to be catching on. And scientists like Gary Ruvkun, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, say that it does sound “obvious, in a way.”
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.”