Science 3 min read

Alien Lifeforms on Mars Could be Hiding in Fettuccine-Like Rocks

A NASA-funded study suggests that pasta-shaped rocks on Mars and other planets could be the most obvious clue pointing to the existence of alien lifeforms.

Sulfurihydrogenibium yellowstonense bacteria clinging to each other to create a fettuccine-like appearance | Image courtesy of Bruce Fouke

Sulfurihydrogenibium yellowstonense bacteria clinging to each other to create a fettuccine-like appearance | Image courtesy of Bruce Fouke

When bringing up Mars and alien lifeforms, especially the search for it, you wouldn’t think of pasta as a potential sign, would you?

Look for water, most people would say.

But there might be something related to this staple of Italian cuisine on the Red Planet. And before we get too excited, this doesn’t involve martian little green men feasting on pasta.

Fettuccine-Shaped Rocks Could be the Most Obvious Sign of Alien Lifeforms on Mars

Meaning “little ribbons,” fettuccine is a type of Italian long pasta.

On Earth, there are some rock formations shaped by ancient bacteria, called Sulfurihydrogenibium Yellowstonense, to look like fettuccine strands or ribbons. It was isolated from the Calcite Springs in Yellowstone National Park in the United States, hence the name.

This sulfur-oxidizing bacterium makes its home in hot springs on Earth in a harsh environment with conditions similar to those found in some areas on Mars. Here on Earth, these very tough bacteria trigger the formation of sedimentary pasta-shaped rocks (travertine).

In a new study, a team of scientists proposed to target similar rocks on Mars or other rocky planets in the search for extraterrestrial life. They even go so far as to say that these fettuccine-like rocks may be the most obvious sign of life on Mars.

Bruce Fouke, a geology professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, led the new, NASA-funded research. Fouke said:

“It has an unusual name, Sulfurihydrogenibium yellowstonense. We just call it ‘Sulfuri.'”

According to Fouke, Sulfuri belongs to a very ancient lineage that goes all the way back before there was even oxygen on Earth, about 2.35 billion years ago. Sulfuri bacteria can withstand extreme temperature and ultraviolet light. Using sulfur and carbon dioxide as energy sources, it only requires a milieu with extremely low concentrations of oxygen to survive.

Researchers studied the bacteria themselves, but more importantly, the filamentous rock structures that encase them and how they both interact.

They found that several clues could point to the present or even past existence of microbial life, such as the string-like structures that form around the bacteria and remain even after they die, as well as other chemical fingerprints. Fouke added:

“This should be an easy form of fossilized life for a rover to detect on other planets… If we see the deposition of this kind of extensive filamentous rock on other planets, we would know it’s a fingerprint of life. It’s big and it’s unique. No other rocks look like this. It would be definitive evidence of the presence of alien microbes.”

Now, future NASA rovers, such as Mars 2020, and other Mars missions, have a great target to look for.

Read More: The International Space Station is Infected With Non-Human Life

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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