Jan 11, 2015 I Paul Seaburn

Microbes May Have Made These Marks on Mars

A scientist who knows something about microbiology on Earth thinks she’s spotted microbial formations on Mars that suggest the life forms could have existed at one time on the Red Planet too.

Dr. Nora Noffke, a geobiologist at Old Dominion University in Virginia, is well known for her research in microbially-induced sedimentary structures. These formations are the result of massive layers or mats of microbes moving the sediments on the bottom of shallow lakes or near the oceanic coasts. As the microbes died and the waters dried up, the sediments fossilized, leaving behind identifiable and datable evidence of life. In 2014, Dr. Noffke found microbially-induced sedimentary structures in Western Australia’s Dresser Formation that were 3.48 billion years old, possibly the oldest evidence of life on Earth.

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Microbially-induced sedimentary structures on Earth

As we’ve reported here, the pictures sent back from Mars have structures that look like buildings, humans, cannons and other items. Dr. Noffke has been studying photos taken by Curiosity in the dry lake bed known as the Gillespie Lake outcrop and she believe they look just like microbial fossils found in Germany, the U.S., Australia and Africa. These patterns on Earth are unique to the type of water body they were formed under. Over time, they are also affected by climate and erosion.

In a paper published in the magazine Astrobiology, Noffke highlights the similarities between the Martian structures and the microbially-induced sedimentary structures on Earth. While she cannot say for certain that they are evidence of life on Mars, the numbers and close similarities seem to suggest more than just coincidence. The only way to determine this, Noffke points out, is to bring samples back to Earth for analysis.

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Dr. Noffke's sketch showing what the structures on Mars might be

NASA mission project scientist Ashwin Vasavada looked at the photos and disagrees with Noffke.

We really didn't see anything that can't be explained by natural processes of transporting that sand in water, and the nature of the rocks suggested that it was just a fluvial sandstone.

Can we please get a manned mission to Mars already?

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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