Mars is among the most favorable planet for the human race to survive as it is believed and that is why, NASA and other space agency along with privately-funded agencies like SpaceX, Blue Origin are making their attempts to launch humans to the red planet. But is it habitable? Is there any life on Mars? Following a recent photo released by NASA that was snapped by Mars Curiosity Rover, an astrobiologist suggested that the rocks depict trace fossils hinting towards the existence of extraterrestrial life on the planet. On the contrary, NASA denied such claims furnishing its own results on the rocks and the crystals being assumed as trace fossils.
On January 4, 2018, Mars Curiosity Rover snapped an image of a rock target called Jura on Vera Rubin Ridge on the red planet. The image showed bright and dark materials deposited in the mineral veins and tiny crystal-shaped bumps on these rocks. When NASA released these photos, it caught the attention of Dr. Barry E. Digregorio who is an astrobiologist at the Buckingham Center for Astrobiology. On further observation, he found out that it could be trace fossils or traces left by animals or their movements, burrows, feces, etc which indicates life on the red planet. He further stated that he will show the research papers at a conference in Australia with sustaining evidence of life on Mars.
On the other hand, the American space agency disapproves of such theories and the existence of alien life yet, as of now. NASA claimed that these crystals may have formed due to a number of possibilities that requires extensive testing and analysis in the further stage. As per one scenario, the crystal might have formed due to increased concentration of salt in water for which, an evaporating lake is an instance where the lake would evaporate leaving the concentration of salts on the lake bed. Further, the agency also claimed that it could be caused due to the movement of salty fluids through mineral veins seen throughout the rock which kind of indicates how and why there is subsurface liquid deposited in the veins. Citing the information about the bright and dark parts of the veins, NASA stated that this signifies that old material might have replaced itself with the new one causing a difference in the color scheme.
Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity project scientist at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California stated that this crystalline structure formed anyhow imply that water was once present on the planet. Mars Curiosity Rover spotted the rock target ‘Jura’ located in the upper part of Vera Rubin Ridge in the Gale Crater. This crater was the same spot where the rover found the first traces of water in 2015. The change in the chemistry of this crystalline structure hints towards habitability. NASA released another image taken near the north pole of Mars featuring large boulders which looks identical to the one formed on Earth as frost heave.
Discovery of life started back in the 19th century when Martian canals were proposed by the astronomers. Then, in 1965, NASA’s Mariner posted the first photos of Mars in a flyby. Then, in the mid-1970s, NASA was successful to land on Mars with the Vikings mission which was another milestone as it sent images of the Martian surface for the first time. Then, NASA’s Pathfinder was sent to study the geology of the planet however, it wasn’t able to find any traces of life or water. Fast forward to the twin rovers Opportunity and Spirit from Mars Exploration mission which finally found traces of water on the red planet. Since then, researchers have been analyzing the surface of the red planet for further evidence and the discovery of such crystalline structures on rocks can prove instrumental.