Cauliflower-like formations on Mars could be the best evidence yet of past life on the Red Planet, according to a groundbreaking study.
Geologists have found striking similarities between a Martian mineral called opaline silica and silica deposits formed by microbes in hot springs on Earth.
The formations were photographed by the since decommissioned Spirit rover in 2007, but the rover wasn’t equipped with the tools to test for evidence of life.
However, new research published in Nature could prompt another visit to the site on Mars’s Home Plate – and a historic discovery.
Steve Ruff and Jack Farmer from Arizona State University School of Earth and Space Exploration compared the deposits with formations in the Chilean desert.
The El Tatio desert’s dry soil and climate mean it’s often by compared to Mars when it might have been warmer and wetter.
In a statement about the study, a spokesperson said: “El Tatio is probably the best terrestrial analog for ancient Martian hot springs.”
The shape of the silica formations found in the desert were similar to the ones found on Mars, according to the study.
They also matched silica formations found in Yellowstone National Park and Taupo Volcanic Zone, both of which were created from microbial life.
“The fact that microbes play a role in producing the distinctive silica structures at El Tatio raises the possibility that the Martian silica structures formed in a comparable manner — in other words with the help of organisms that were alive at the time,” Ruff said.
NASA is set to send a new rover to Mars in 2020, but its destination is yet to be determined.
Ruff and Farmer are now calling on NASA to pick Home Plate as the landing site.
Though it’s currently only second on the list of candidates, their study could shake things up.
Ruff added: “We know exactly where to land and where to go collect samples. And the silica structures found by Spirit meet the definition of a potential biosignature.