An eminent geobiologist claims to have noticed possible signs of ancient life in images taken of the Martian landscape.
After examining images taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover, Dr. Nora Noffke, an associate professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., claims to have noticed structures which would suggest that there was once life on Mars. The discovery follows hot on the heels of the detection of methane spikes in the atmosphere of the Red Planet, which could point to biological activity.
Did microbial life exist on Mars?
“We can detect sedimentary structures in rocks on Mars using the rover images,” said Dr. Noffke in an email to The Huffington Post. “The structures I describe belong to a group of microbial structures that form by the interaction of benthic (living on the ground) microbes with sediment dynamics (erosion) in clastic deposits such as sand.”
In layman’s terms, the existence of such structures on Mars would suggest that there once existed microbial life on the Red Planet. Noffke claims that the microbes would have existed under 3.7 billion years ago.
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Noffke compared the images to geological structures found on Earth, which are formed by microbes living in groups known as microbial mats.
“Mats are composed of trillions and trillions of microbes that assemble on the floor of lakes, rivers, oceans,” Noffke wrote. “The microbes communicate with each other, they arrange into a dense layer and collaborate in gaining nutrients and light.”
Progress in the field
Some of her scientific peers have claimed that the research is promising, including Dr. Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who said:
“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 told Astrobiology magazine. “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.”
If Noffke can continue to back up her arguments with painstaking analysis she could be on her way to convincing both her fellow scientists, and the public as a whole, that microbial life did exist on Mars.