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Fossils In Mars

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In Mars rover Perseverance, the robotic explorer has been tasked with searching for signs of ancient microbial life on the dusty, dry planet. Tiny microfossils that would be evidence that Mars was once habitable.

Researchers from the universities of Oxford and Edinburgh warn that interesting patterns in sediments of clay or layers of rock may look as if they were deposited by cellular life, such as stromatolites. However, before scientists jump the gun they should also consider whether those markings may have been carved by geological or chemical processes on Mars.

Scientists will have to keep an eye out for non-biological mineral deposits that look a heck of a lot like fossils. Astro-biologists from the two universities reviewed evidence of all known processes that could have created lifelike deposits in rocks on Mars. They identified dozens of processes – with many more likely still undiscovered – that can produce structures that mimic those of microscopic, simple life-forms that may once have existed on Mars.

“At some stage a Mars rover will almost certainly find something that looks a lot like a fossil, so being able to confidently distinguish these from structures and substances made by chemical reactions is vital,” McMahon, also a chancellor’s fellow in the school of physics and astronomy at Edinburgh, said on Wednesday.

“For every type of fossil out there, there is at least one non-biological process that creates very similar things, so there is a real need to improve our understanding of how these form.”

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