A rock on Mars that looks like a rat or a squirrel has quickly become and internet sensation. The picture was snapped back in September 2012 by the Mars rover Curiosity. Recently, UFO enthusiasts located the would-be rodent, holding it up as evidence that there might already be life on the red planet. Another theory suggests that NASA brought the cute little creature to Mars to see if it could survive. The tiny mammal-like rock is said to be crouching between two other stones. Supporters point out that you can see its legs, stomach, cheeks and ears, even eyelids. It’s quizzical considering that Mars lacks liquid water, a food source, or even an atmosphere that might support such an animal. The Mars rat may be fiction, but scientists believe that there could have once been life on Mars.
The fourth planet had a warm, moist climate in its distant past. Billions of years ago, microbes may have inhabited Mars. Many scientists believe that microbial life may still live in underground pockets on the fourth planet today. Billions of years back, Mars had water in abundance. An ocean inhabited one of its poles. This time period coincides with the development of life on earth, around four billion years ago. Mars had many dry areas too where life could have formed.
It also had molybdenum, a substance critical to forming the oxygen rich environment life needs to take root. The idea is that a meteorite from Mars carrying this substance could have landed on earth’s surface, helping to seed life on earth. Another theory is that RNA already took shape on Mars and came to earth on a meteorite. This theory that life may have originated outside of earth is called panspermia.
Scientists were recently taken aback when Curiosity found no methane in abundance in the Martian atmosphere. Methane is thought to be a sign of life, though it can be made inorganically as well. This does not spell the end for the theory that life once existed there, and perhaps still does. There are many kinds of microbes which produce methane when they metabolize, but there are other classes that do not.
Curiosity just discovered dust with water molecules in it throughout the surface of Mars. The geology of the fourth planet is also said to be complex and Earth-like. With evidence of an atmosphere, the needed superstructure for life is present. A Martian rat may have inhabited the planet billions of years ago, though it’s much more likely that we find evidence of microbial life once existing on Mars.
The Martian rat story quickly jumped from UFO enthusiasts to the mainstream media. Fox News, Discovery News, space.com and other media outlets soon jumped aboard. Not long after, this curious phenomenon made its way to Facebook pages and even received its own Twitter account, @RealMarsRat. By Friday it already had 49 followers.
Experts point out that this is kind of mass misconception is a natural, human psychological phenomenon known as pareidolia. This is the mind’s inclination to see human or animal-like shapes in shapes, etchings, rock outcroppings and other places. The many sightings of the Virgin Mary or Jesus in refrigerators, burnt onto toast and other incidents is ample testament to this human proclivity. Even though it is highly unlikely that there are any Martian rats scuttling across the surface of the red planet today, it’s remarkable to consider that we and all of the abundant life on earth may have originated on Mars.
By: Philip Perry