Insect-like creatures on Mars? Ohio entomologist cites NASA photos as proof of life on Red Planet, experts say it's all an illusion
As NASA scientists gear up for their next Mars mission that will look for signs of past life, a scientist from Ohio claims to have found photographic evidence of "insect- and reptile-like creatures" crawling on the surface of the Red planet.
According to William Romoser, an entomologist and professor emeritus at Ohio University, his claims are based on photographs sent by the NASA Mars rover. Experts, including those from NASA, are, however, not convinced.
After spending years together hunting for signs of life, Romoser observed insect-like forms, structured similarly to bees, as well as reptile-like forms -- both as fossils and living creatures.
"There has been and still is life on Mars. 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," says Romoser in a press release from Ohio University.
Romoser, who was an entomology professor at Ohio University for 45 years and co-founded its Tropical Disease Institute, also spent nearly 20 years as a visiting vector-borne disease researcher at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.
According to experts, reading pictures can be tricky and misleading, as witnessed in the past. In 1976, the American Viking Orbiter snapped a picture that generated a lot of buzz. In a region in Cydonia on Mars, people could see a shape that resembled a face in the image. Later, NASA clarified that the image was an optical illusion. In 2015, the Mars rover sent back an image where people made bizzare observations as well: they saw a crab-shaped object that mirrored the ones appearing in science fiction.
All this "proof" is likely just an example of pareidolia, a phenomenon in which people see patterns in random data, David Maddison, a professor in the integrative biology department at Oregon State University, told Space.com. He adds, "I, personally, have pareidolia with respect to insects, beetles in particular. I've worked on beetles for decades; I have collected many thousands of beetles around the world. Through the years I have built into my brain a pattern-recognition system for picking out beetles."
Other scientists have also raised suspicions. "I am a bit skeptical. If these are 'current' living forms, we would need to see more evidence that life can be sustained. Where are the resources for these arthropods? What are they eating, and are they reproducing?" Pepperdine University visiting professor and entomologist Susan Finkbeiner told Fox News.
Finkbeiner believes that the objects are more likely to be fossils than live ones. "Even though early insects on Earth had wings, the atmosphere on our planet was thicker to allow flight and I am not convinced the thin atmosphere on Mars would allow for successful flight, but that is something an insect physiologist or biomechanics specialist would need to be consulted for," Finkbeiner adds.
NASA has also denied Romoser's claim. "The collective general opinion of the large majority of the scientific community is that current conditions on the surface of Mars are not suitable for liquid water or complex life," Alana Johnson, NASA's Public Affairs Officer, said in a statement to Fox News.
However, NASA will be looking for signs of extinct life on the Red planet. Their Mars 2020 rover will be combing through the Jezero Crater on Mars - once home to an ancient river delta - to look for fossil records of microbes.