Are Those Animal Tracks On Mars? JPL Says No

Published : Thursday, March 8, 2018 | 6:43 AM

NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars has found dark, stick-like features that are each about the size of a grain of rice. They were likely formed by crystals in water long ago on Mars, NASA scientists have said. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars has found dark, stick-like features that are each about the size of a grain of rice. They were likely formed by crystals in water long ago on Mars, NASA scientists have said. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

A United Kingdom-based researcher claims he’s seen evidence of ancient animal tracks on Mars. NASA scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena are saying these “animal track” shapes have been widely documented as interesting crystal formations that may have formed in water a long time ago – and may not have been formed out of living matter.

The Mars rover Curiosity found the features on Mount Sharp, in a zone more than 1,000 vertical feet above the rover’s landing site on the floor of Gale Crater, says a report on Space.com.

“When we looked at these things close up, they’re linear, but they’re not tubular in the sense of being cylinders; they’re actually quite angular,” Curiosity mission scientist Ashwin Vasavada at JPL said in a Space.com interview in January. “They have kind of a square or a parallelogram sort of cross section and form at angles to each other when there’s multiple of them together. And all of that’s pretty reminiscent of crystalline growth.”

On Sunday, Barry DiGregorio, a research fellow at the University of Buckingham, caused a media frenzy after he said he saw evidence of “branching, twisting features” in NASA’s Curiosity rover photos.

“If you look at the images more closely, the sticks merge into the host rock, this actually has features in it that are reminiscent of trace fossils,” DiGregorio said in a Daily Star interview published Sunday. “Crystals don’t add up. Crystals don’t branch or twist. We’re talking about something that might have been equivalent to the Ordovician period on Earth.”

DiGregorio even accused NASA of orchestrating a cover-up.

“Put it this way, these images, these figures, have not been seen on Mars to date,” he told the Daily Star. “If you have been in this as long as I have, to have seen all the things I have seen, with NASA, I would actually say that they are avoiding looking for life.”

DiGregorio believes Mars hosted life in a giant lake on its surface around a billion years ago. He plans to publish a full report that proves the crystals are in fact trace fossils of an alien race.

JPL’s Vasavada in January said it is difficult to definitively say if the features are biological in origin, but that is not a conclusion NASA would jump to quickly.

“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,” Vasavada said. “We have a very limited capability overall to understand whether something is biological or not.”

In mid-February, NASA said Curiosity discovered tiny, dark bumps that look similar to features that form around gypsum crystals in drying lakes on Earth.

“These [types of features] can form when salts become concentrated in water, such as in an evaporating lake,” said Sanjeev Gupta, a Curiosity science team member at Imperial College London.

NASA hopes to do a deeper examination of the shapes and other odd things Curiosity looked at on Mars surface when it launches another probe into the planet, Mars 2020.

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