If all goes to plan, it might not be that long until we find out whether or not there's life on Mars.
In 2020, when Earth and Mars will be at a close approach, NASA will send its Mars 2020 rover to the Red Planet. Once it arrives on February 18, 2021, it will begin to search for potential signs of life, looking for both indications of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past and signs of microbial life itself. It's an exciting time for life on Mars fans.
However, an entomology professor is now claiming he's found evidence of life on Mars and says he has photographic evidence to back up his claims. Dr William Romoser, professor emeritus at Ohio University, says he has spent years studying photographs taken of the planet that are freely available on the Internet and has found something that everybody else has missed – numerous examples of life on Mars, both as fossils and alive.
Not only that, but he claims to have found very complex life, including reptile-like forms and alien lifeforms incredibly similar to bees.
"It appears that the 'Red Planet' enjoys a surprising abundance of higher life forms," the entomologist, who specializes in arbovirology and general/medical entomology, wrote in a poster explaining his "findings".
“There has been and still is life on Mars,” Romoser said in a statement. “There is apparent diversity among the Martian insect-like fauna which display many features similar to Terran insects that are interpreted as advanced groups – for example, the presence of wings, wing flexion, agile gliding/flight, and variously structured leg elements.”
Woah, life on Mars, that's pretty huge right? Seems like a big deal. I wonder why the rest of the scientific community and NASA aren't all over this. Well, that's probably because there's a much more likely explanation/obvious problem: We're looking at rocks.
The phenomenon of seeing familiar patterns in objects is called pareidolia. In terms of our evolution, it makes sense that we spot patterns that could be a danger to us (e.g. a snake or a hungry bear) as quickly as we possibly can.
Carl Sagan explained in his book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, that the ability to identify threats was incredibly important to our own survival.
Early humans that ran away from what they thought was a lion hiding in the bushes survived. Those who couldn't spot this lion "pattern" would be eaten by it. The lion, not the pattern, that is. And if they ran away but it turned out that the lion was in fact just a rock, that's fine; those humans survived either way and passed on their genes to the next generation.
Sagan said that finding patterns (where patterns exist or not) was a vital precautionary survival skill, but could lead to the misinterpretation of random images or patterns of light as faces and familiar objects. Or, in this case, an entomologist seeing a bunch of rocks as insects and snakes. Unfortunately, it would appear he's taken this far enough to present his ideas at the Entomological Society of America annual meeting.
He clearly wants it to be true that there's life on Mars. We all do. Just wait a few years for NASA to send the next rover and we might find out.