Fouke led a team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign looking into the likelihood of life on the Red Planet.
The popular image of Mars’s inhabitants has always been something like humans – only green, and with a few minor modifications.
But an earthbound bacterium, called Sulfurihydrogenibium yellowstonense, which is found in areas with very low oxygen levels, and can survive extremely hot conditions, is a far better candidate for the way life on Mars might look.
Sulfuri, which have a high tolerance for UV light which would be essential in Mars’s thin atmosphere, can be found in the inhospitable conditions of the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park in the US.
“If we see the deposition of this kind of extensive filamentous rock on other planets, we would know it’s a fingerprint of life”
University of Illinois geology professor Bruce Fouke
Professor Fluke led a NASA-funded expedition to Yellowstone to learn more about this hardy lifeform which has endured on Earth for some 2.4 billion years.
In order to survive in fast-flowing hot water sulfuri form long, stringy structures that are often compared to fettuccine. The structures are good candidates for fossilisation, meaning that if something like Sulfuri ever existed on Mars its traces could be spotted today by a rover.
The structures are so pasta like, Fouke’s team actually used sterilised pasta forks to gather their samples.
“These Sulfuri cables look amazingly like fettuccine pasta, while further downstream they look more like capellini pasta,” he says.
“If we see the deposition of this kind of extensive filamentous rock on other planets, we would know it’s a fingerprint of life,” Fouke continued.
“It’s big and it’s unique. No other rocks look like this. It would be definitive evidence of the presences of alien microbes.
“This should be an easy form of fossilised life for a rover to detect on other planets.”