After having landed on the Red Planet more than five years ago, the Curiosity Rover has explored the red planet unlike any other rover before it, making incredible discoveries that helped us understand just how similar Mars is to Earth.
Every new image snapped by the Curiosity Rover has helped scientists get to know Mars a bit better.
By analysing different images, scientists have managed to formulate an idea of how Mars looked like in the distant past.
Now, thanks to a fresh batch of images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), and beamed back from the surface of the red planet, researcher Barry DiGregorio, author of Mars: The Living Planet and The Microbes of Mars spotted something very unusual on the surface of the red planet.
Meanwhile, back on Mars… I’m checking out these stick-like figures. Each is about a quarter-inch long. Maybe they're crystals? Or they could be minerals that filled spaces where crystals dissolved away. Stay tuned! Science continues. pic.twitter.com/4oR70BVht3
— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) January 4, 2018
While speaking to Inside Outer Space, he said that this could be a groundbreaking discovery:
“They look exceptionally similar to Ordovician trace fossils I have studied and photographed on Earth,” he said. “If not trace fossils, what other geological explanations will NASA come up with?”
Despite the fact that the Curiosity Rover has offered us an unprecedented view of Mars with amazing images of the Martian landscape, the recently spotted tiny formations on Mars may be the biggest discovery to date.
Mysterious ‘stick-figures’ are clearly visible on the surface of Mars in what NASA says may be crystals or minerals left in the gaps where crystals dissolved.
However, some researchers like DiGregorio have a different theory: Trace Fossils which offer indirect evidence of life in the past, such as the footprints, tracks, burrows, borings, and feces left behind by animals, rather than the preserved remains of the body of the actual animal itself.
Now, the Curiosity Rover will head back to the area it first spotted the enigmatic features to take another look. “This site was so interesting that we backtracked to get to where the rover was parked for this plan,” wrote Curiosity team member Christopher Edwards in the January 3 Curiosity mission update.
Despite the fact that the most likely explanation for the mystery structures is a natural formation, Pascal Lee of the Mars Institute said: “The Curiosity images really pique our curiosity,” he said. “It’s difficult to tell what the mystery sticks are, and a strictly mineral origin is, of course, the most plausible.”
The enigmatic miniature tubes could be evidence of bioturbation, which is something that happens when organisms residing in sediments leave an imprint on their structure.
“A typical example of bioturbation is the creation of worm burrows,” Lee explained. “The burrows once refilled with sediments, fossilized, and then exposed by erosion, can end up looking like wiggly sticks.”
“To claim that we’re seeing bioturbation on Mars — which I did not say — would be an extraordinary claim,” he added.
The difficult part is to science the sh*t out of the discovery, and find out what they are. The structures are really small, around a millimeter wide and five millimeters long. Experts indicate that their angular nature indicates that they might have been formed by tiny crystals.
Crystal molds are often found on Earth and form when crystals in rock dissolve.
However, the difficult part is finding out what they are because, despite the fact that NASA’s Curiosity rover is a small mobile laboratory, it would be nearly impossible to find out whether the structures are organic in nature without taking them back to a lab on Earth.
“That’s pretty challenging on Earth to distinguish those two things without being able to put these things into a lab to look for the presence of organics,” said Ashwin Vasavada, project scientist for Curiosity.
“We have a very limited capability overall to understand whether something is biological or not.”