One of the paradoxes of recent explorations of the Martian surface is that the more we see of the planet, the more it looks like Earth, despite a very big difference: Complex life forms have existed for billions of years on Earth, while Mars never saw life bigger than a microbe, if that.
Two hillslopes in the Atacama Desert of Chile – one of bedrock (A) and the other covered with soil (B) – look amazingly like the Columbia Hills on Mars (C) once the yellowish grey Martian sky has been artificially colored blue and the red color of the rocks has been removed. (Mars image, acquired by the rover Spirit, courtesy of NASA/JPL/Cornell University)
A perspective view of the Gabilan Mesa of central California, derived from a high-resolution laser altimetry map. Such distinct, periodically spaced ridges and valleys result from erosional processes that are strongly influenced by biota. Nonetheless, no unique topographic signature of life on Earth has yet been found.
"The rounded hills, meandering stream channels, deltas and alluvial fans are all shockingly familiar," said William E. Dietrich, professor of earth and planetary science at the University of California, Berkeley. "This caused us to ask: Can we tell from topography alone, and in the absence of the obvious influence of humans, that life pervades the Earth? Does life matter?"
In a paper published in the Jan. 26 issue of the journal Nature, Dietrich and graduate student J. Taylor Perron reported, to their surprise, no distinct signature of life in the landforms of Earth.
Robert Sanders | EurekAlert!
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