Could Microbes Have Shaped These Bumpy Shapes Found on Mars?

NASA/JPL-Caltech via Smithsonian (PHOTO CREDIT: Provided by Popular Science)
NASA/JPL-Caltech via Smithsonian (PHOTO CREDIT: Provided by Popular Science)

In 2008, the Spirit rover found these bumpy protrusions on Mars. Now scientists are wondering if they could have been sculpted by ancient microbes.

In 2008, the Spirit rover came across some bumpy terrain in the Gusev crater region of Mars. Now, as Sarah Scoles reports for Smithsonian, scientists want to look into whether those little bumps were carved by ancient Martian microbes.

The nodules bear some resemblance to cauliflower, but they wouldn’t taste very good–they’re actually made out of a type of glassy mineral called opaline silica. Although scientists can’t say for sure how they formed on Mars, planetary geologist Steven Ruff and geobiologist Jack Farmer recently announced that they’ve found similar features on Earth, which they think were built by microbes.

Previously, scientists thought the Mars bumps might have been carved out of the rock layer by acidic geothermal processes, back when the region was an active hot spring a few billion years ago. Then, in 2011, Ruff and Farmer and their colleagues found that the area was likely alkaline or neutral, which contradicts the acid hypothesis.

The nodules remained pretty mysterious for a few years, but then the team found similar structures in the Atacama Desert in Chile. With its dryness and temperature extremes, and even reddish-hued soil, the Atacama is the closest thing we have to Mars on Earth.

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SOURCE: Popular Science, Sarah Fecht