NASA’s Spirit rover vehicle may have discovered the first signs of alien life on the surface of Mars, scientists are saying. Oddly shaped silica deposits found by the Mars rover could be evidence that life, at least microbial life, at one time existed on the Red Planet.
The Independent reported February 4 that planetary geologist Steven Ruff and geobiologist Jack Farmer of Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, after studying similar rare Earth minerals, have suggested that unusual deposits found by the Mars Spirit rover on the Martian surface could be the product of ancient microbes. The deposits, opaline silica, were discovered in the Gusev crater at a place called “Home Plate” back in 2009. Closer examination of the minerals yielded the presence of miniscule protrusions resembling cauliflowers, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Ruff and Farmer studied comparable silica structures in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, a region that closely resembles the conditions on Mars. There, according to the scientists’ paper presented at the American Geophysical Union in December, they found deposits in channels formed by hot springs and geysers “remarkably similar features, including infrared spectral characteristics and what we describe here as micro-digitate silica structures.” It is believed that the area where the Martian formations were found once featured geysers as well.
Like silica structures are also found in Yellowstone National Park and in New Zealand, places known for their geysers and hot springs. Both sites have yielded tiny fossils, evidence of microbial life. It is not an extraordinary leap of logic to suggest that such microbes might also be responsible for the silica deposits in the Atacama Desert. Following that logic thread, it is also possible that the opaline silica found by NASA’s Spirit rover could have been created by alien life in the form of ancient microbes.
But the link is tenuous at best. There are no guarantees that silicate life forms on Earth have analogues on Mars. Still, as Ruff and Farmer suggested in December, on what now appears to be a barren world, the silica deposits might be the best place to start looking for alien life.
NASA’s Curiosity rover discovered silica during its explorations back in December in an area called Marias Pass, which is near the base of Mount Sharp. “On earth, all the environments where we find this kind of silica require some kind of water activity,” Jens Frydenvang, an astro-geologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico explained in a video. “Often it’s also a very nice environment to find microbial life.”
NASA’s Spirit rover landed on Mars in January 2004 and was operational until mid-2011. It is located around 2,500 miles east of the Curiosity rover, which landed in 2012 and continues its mission to this day.
This adds to growing evidence that Mars, at least at some time in its past, could possibly have been home to alien life forms. The NASA Curiosity rover reported in December, according to The Guardian, that methane, considered a reliable biological marker, existed on the Red Planet in concentrations about 4,000 times less than that present in Earth’s atmosphere, confirming spectral features of the gas first detected in 2009.