NASA Scientist Sees Possible Mat of Martian Microbes

COLORADO -- By Leonard David Senior Space -- A future astronaut traipsing across the landing sites of the Mars Exploration Rovers – Spirit and Opportunity – might be squishing into a welcome mat of microbes, according to one NASA scientist. While the twin robots push ahead in scouring their real estate locations at Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum, they leave behind a tantalizing trail of issues that need to be sorted out. One big unknown: Did life ever take root on Mars? And if so, is that planet home to living organisms today? So far, the life-on-Mars card has not played out. Rover scientists have seen nothing they regard as needing a biological explanation. But the twin robot landers weren't built to prowl around for life.

According to David McKay, chief scientist for astrobiology at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, visual evidence from the rovers is pretty enticing. The chronicle of Mars being viewed as a comfy habitat for biology is an unfolding one, and he led the research group that in August 1996 presented evidence of ancient life from Mars. The observations, they researchers said, strongly suggested primitive life may have existed on Mars more than 3.6 billion years ago. The NASA-funded team found the first organic molecules thought to be of Martian origin, several mineral features characteristic of biological activity, and possible microscopic fossils of primitive, bacteria-like organisms inside of an ancient Martian rock that fell to Earth as a meteorite – the often-called "Mars Rock" or as scientists like to professionally label it: ALH84001."I've seen the saga move from 20 or 30 years ago when virtually no one believed there was life on Mars…or that there was even water on Mars," McKay said last week. "Now the whole pendulum is swinging." Microbial mat McKay said it is now clear a lot of water flowed across Mars. Furthermore, there may still be water spurting out onto the planet at certain times. "The same pendulum may be swinging back toward life," he said. "We'll wait and see. These are exciting times. "The Mars rovers represent an incredibly successful mission, McKay said. Moreover, they seemingly have "uncovered" a major find. He points to pictures taken by the rovers that show areas of the martian surface disturbed by the retraction of landing airbags.


Patches of surface "acted as a cohesive blanket of some sort" when the airbags pulled back, McKay explains. "It didn't simply crack apart like a dried-up crust. But one possibility is that this is the fossilized remains of a biological mat of some sort," he speculated. The mat would be made up of bacterial parts and pieces. That claim can't be proven at this point, McKay said. "That's one reason you have to go get samples to be sure ."Swept under the Magic Carpet Mars has all the conditions for life: water, energy, and organic substances, McKay pointed out. "It is very clear that Mars was a habitable place in terms of life as we know it. Meteorite evidence show there was microbial life on Mars," McKay said. "And for all we know, there still could be. It's hard to kill off life once it has started. "Early in the mission of Spirit at Gusev Crater, scientists dubbed the region messed up by landing bags as the "Magic Carpet." The crumpled portion of the soil appeared to have been peeled away, as noted by rover scientists. "I think there's really something there," McKay told "There is some cohesiveness to that material. Talk about the Magic Carpet just went away. I don't think it should have gone away. "He pointed to work being done at Guerrero Negro, Baja California by NASA's Ames Research Center on the evolution of a microbial community functioning in microbial mats. "They've also produced some in the lab. You pick that stuff up and it's kind of like a fabric. It is fairly cohesive. A crusty material like dura crust breaks up immediately," McKay said. Resolving power According to a NASA Ames web site, microbial mats here on Earth are important because their 3.4-billion-year fossil record indicates they are our planet's oldest known ecosystems. 9 August 04 snip

Note: Filer's Research Institute has been telling our readers for many years there is life on Mars like this possible sea shell?. "We find life the old fashion way, we look at it in the images."



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