ATHENS, Ohio (Nov. 19, 2019) - As scientists scramble to determine whether there is life on Mars, Ohio University Professor Emeritus William Romoser's research shows that we already have the evidence, courtesy of photographs from various Mars rovers (view photos in gallery).
Dr. Romoser, who specializes in arbovirology and general/medical entomology, has spent several years studying photographs from the red planet that are available on the Internet. He found numerous examples of insect-like forms, structured similarly to bees, as well as reptile-like forms, both as fossils and living creatures. He presented his findings Tuesday, Nov. 19, at the national meeting of the Entomological Society of America in St. Louis, Missouri.
Analysis by Dr. William Romoser
"There has been and still is life on Mars," Romoser said, noting that the images appear to show both fossilized and living creatures. "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."
Romoser said that while the Martian rovers, particularly the Curiosity Rover, have been looking for indicators of organic activity, there are a number of photos (in gallery) which clearly depict the insect- and reptile-like forms. Numerous photos show images where arthropod body segments, along with legs, antennae and wings, can be picked out from the surrounding area, and one even appears to show one of the insects in a steep dive before pulling up just before hitting the ground.
Analysis by Dr. William Romoser
Individual images were carefully studied while varying photographic parameters such as brightness, contrast, saturation, inversion, and so on. No content was added, or removed. Criteria used in Romoser's research included: Dramatic departure from the surroundings, clarity of form, body symmetry, segmentation of body parts, repeating form, skeletal remains, and observation of forms in close proximity to one another. Particular postures, evidence of motion, flight, apparent interaction as suggested by relative positions, and shiny eyes were taken to be consistent with the presence of living forms.
"Once a clear image of a given form was identified and described, it was useful in facilitating recognition of other less clear, but none-the-less valid, images of the same basic form," Romoser said. "An exoskeleton and jointed appendages are sufficient to establish identification as an arthropod. Three body regions, a single pair of antennae, and six legs are traditionally sufficient to establish identification as 'insect' on Earth. These characteristics should likewise be valid to identify an organism on Mars as insect-like. On these bases, arthropodan, insect-like forms can be seen in the Mars rover photos."
Distinct flight behavior was evident in many images, Romoser said. These creatures loosely resemble bumble bees or carpenter bees on Earth. Other images show these "bees" appearing to shelter or nest in caves. And others show a fossilized creature that resembles a snake.
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 U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Between 1973 and 1998, Romoser authored and co-authored four editions of the widely-used textbook, "The Science of Entomology."
Romoser noted that interpretations of insect- and reptile-like creatures he described may change in the future as knowledge of life on Mars evolves, but that the sheer volume of evidence is compelling.
"The presence of higher metazoan organisms on Mars implies the presence of nutrient/energy sources and processes, food chains and webs, and water as elements functioning in a viable, if extreme, ecological setting sufficient to sustain life," he said. "I have observed instances suggestive of standing water or small water courses with evident meander and with the expected blurring of small submerged rocks, larger emergent rocks at the atmosphere/water interface, a moist bank area, and a drier area beyond the moist area. Water on Mars has been reported a number of times, including surface water detected by instrumentation on Viking, Pathfinder, Phoenix, and Curiosity.
"The evidence of life on Mars presented here provides a strong basis for many additional important biological as well as social and political questions," he added. It also represents a solid justification for further study."