The Curiosity Rover has purportedly sent back photos of actual, growing mushrooms, other fungi, and algae on the surface of Mars, the Daily Express is reporting. At least, that’s the claim being made by a scientific journal that reviewed photos from the rover.
At this point, it bears noting that, as of this writing, NASA has not confirmed or denied that the conclusions drawn by the Journal of Astrobiology and Space Science have any scientific merit. If indeed, there was indisputable confirmation that there was life thriving on the surface of Mars, it would be the biggest scientific news of the decade, if not the century, so the study’s conclusions certainly need to be understood in the larger context.
Nevertheless, for decades, the consensus among the space community is that conditions on Mars don’t support life — at least, not on the surface. If there is, indeed, life on Mars, it’s believed to be below the surface. And of course, it’s not expected to be particularly-evolved life, but rather, simple organisms such as fungi and algae.
And indeed, that’s exactly what the Journal claims that its researchers are seeing.
Specifically, the study’s lead author, Dr. Regina Dass, of the Department of Microbiology, School of Life Sciences, India, says that Curiosity sent back 15 photos that clearly and unambiguously show mushrooms and other primitive organisms growing on the surface of Mars.
“There are no geological or other abiogenic forces on Earth which can produce sedimentary structures, by the hundreds, which have mushroom shapes, stems, stalks, and shed what looks like spores on the surrounding surface,” Dass explains. “In fact, fifteen specimens were photographed by NASA growing out of the ground in just three days.”
The supposed photographic evidence for life on Mars is bolstered by known scientific evidence gathered by other spacecraft that have been examining the Red Planet, says Dr. Vincenzo Rizzo, a National Research Council biogeologist. He points to the fact that Mars-examining spacecraft have found seasonal fluctuations in the methane in the Martian atmosphere, which can be tied (on Earth anyway) to natural life-and-death cycles of organic matter.
The Journal of Astrobiology and Space Science may not, however, be the most reliable scientific source. According to an analysis and ranking of space and planetary science-related scientific journals by the Scimago Institutions Ranking, no journal by that name appears in the Top 50 of reliable journals on the topic. A journal with a similar name, International Journal of Astrobiology, does appear at #50; but according to the institute’s reliable rankings, the journal is not known for its scientific reliability.