At last, scientists have discovered a form of life that could have evolved on Mars. Geologists unearthed a treasure trove of fossilized remains in a salty, acidic lake in remote Australia — the creatures, probably about 250 million years old, were, according to New Scientist, "made up of a mix of inorganic crystals and 'hairs' stuck together in a mass" (pictured). The lake where they lived was filled with water whose extreme levels of salinity and acidity are a near-match for Martian water. Find out more, plus see more cool pictures of the blobs, below.
According to New Scientist:
Kathleen Benison, a geologist at Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, led a team that studied the sediments formed by acidic and very salty lakes in modern day Western Australia, and those deposited around 250 million years ago in North Dakota. It is very difficult to survive in such a tough environments and few signs of life have ever been found in these sorts of lakes.
Inside the halite and gypsum "evaporate" minerals, which form as the lake waters dry up, Benison and colleagues found previously unknown fossilised blobs at both the modern and ancient sites, ranging in size from 0.05 to 1.5 millimetres. They were made up of a mix of inorganic crystals and "hairs" stuck together in a mass (pictured). They named them hairy blobs.
The team argues that each hair was in fact a separate microorganism because the hair fossils are made of disordered graphite which, unlike inorganic graphite, has irregular layers that suggest it was once a live organism..
Many of the hairs are coated with crystals of gypsum, a calcium sulphate mineral. This link with gypsum suggests that the microorganisms were fuelled by chemical interactions with sulphur in the acidic water - which helped the gypsum to form.
Scientists are still divided on whether these crystal-hair creatures actually count as "life." As they run further tests on the fossils, the mere existence of such creatures fuels hope among astrobiologists that life could indeed have evolved on Mars and we might get a chance to meet it — or at least, to find its fossilized remains. Images from Benison's published paper in Astrobiology.
See full text of Benison's article here (just scroll down).